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by Laura Antoniou
Category: Erotica/BDSM Erotica
Description: The Academy: Tales of the Marketplace continues the brilliant saga of resolute slaves and exacting owners begun in previous volumes (The Marketplace. The Slave, and The Trainer). A dynamic culture of honor and duty embracing absolute servitude is the basis for the clandestine society known as The Marketplace. Sensuality, intelligence, and passion meld into exquisite eroticism and scenes of blazing sexuality. In "The Academy" we follow Chris Parker and his trainee, Michael LaGuardia, to Japan, where a conclave of trainers is taking place. While the trainers swap cautionary tales and debate protocol, though, moves are being made that may change the Marketplace, and Chris's place in it, forever. This complete, full-length novel is a rich tapestry of sexuality and emotion, augmented by the inclusion of short stories by guest authors Karen Taylor, Cecilia Tan, Michael Hernandez, david stein, and Christian Muncy. The ebook edition includes a brand new bonus story, "Inside Straight".
eBook Publisher: Circlet Press/Luster Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [784 KB]
Reading time: 506-709 min.
CHAPTER ONE: WELCOME TO OKINAWA
The murmur of voices had that peculiar polyglot cadence of a mixture of languages. English dominated, as it always did, a combination of sheer numbers and the decibel level of its native speakers. But Japanese was a close second, and the lilting tones of French wove in and out like snatches of melodic static. The excitement level was high, matched by the energy of people in motion, going from one to another, hands and arms outstretched.
"Parker-san." It was a strong voice, cutting through the din as neatly as though it had been pitched perfectly for one listener without seeming like a shout.
Chris Parker glanced up as the automatic shading in his glasses finally began to fade. He smiled and waited until the man who had called to him came closer, and then bowed low in greeting. His bow was met by one noticeably less deep, and they both smiled when they rose to look at each other.
Sakai Tetsuo hadn't changed much in the three years since they had last met in person. His hair was a dense mixture of gray and white, trimmed just a little longer than current Tokyo fashion, his blue suit impeccably tailored and pressed, his shoes hand-made and Italian. His tie was knotted tight to his throat, perfectly neat, matched by the shining peaks of his pocket square. He was only slightly taller than Chris Parker, and as they shook hands, they looked like a strange pair of brothers, small and compact and precise in every movement.
"You are looking excellent, my friend," Tetsuo said warmly. "It has been too long!You must stay after the conference and come back toTokyo and visit with me."
"Oh, no, Sakai-san, I must look like something the cat dragged in. Spending a day on airplanes doesn't do much to improve one's disposition or appearance.Thank you very much, but you are too kind." Chris ruefully ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "I would love nothing more than to visit with you, and it might be possible." He avoided the direct and rude negative that they both understood would have been improper, and Tetsuo nodded slightly in pride.
"You are always a welcome guest," he said simply."Perhaps we could speak later, upon some insignificant items concerning mutual business?"
Chris hid his shock at Tetsuo's directness. To bring up business first was unknown of in this rigid instructor in all things Japanese. "I am at your service," Chris answered, this time in Japanese.
Tetsuo smiled again. "Excellent! In this too, you have improved," he said. "But perhaps we shall speak English, so that I may practice my own poor efforts?"
They could continue this dance back and forth all night-- as in fact, they had, on several occasions. The rhythm of Japanese conversation, especially concerning business, was soft, rolling, and required patience which few untutored Westerners could finesse. However, Tetsuo's English was excellent, a language he had begun to learn as a child and had honed with years in America. His business acumen was also honed in America, with a Harvard MBA. Chris's Japanese was of much more recent vintage and rudimentary at best. The areas of knowledge which he had studied both at college and during his first extended contact with Tetsuo would simply not be adequate to the subtle nuances of negotiation.
"I will be honored to see you at your convenience," Chris said, inclining his shoulders slightly. Tetsuo immediately reciprocated, and the two of them straightened at the sound of a delighted, low-pitched laugh.
"I could watch you all day, bobbing up and down like those strange toys in the backs of American cars," Ken Mandarin said, sliding up to them. Today, she was not in her usual Western cross-dressing drag, but in a stunning Japanese outfit. She whirled for their approval, indigo hakama trousers flaring out, the heavy jacket wrapped more tightly around her body than perhaps necessary or customary.
The two men bowed to her and she laughed again, dipping elegantly into an enormously exaggerated one. "All this up and down, up and down!" she exclaimed, tossing her head back. "One might get dizzy!"
"I see you've already been shopping," Chris said.
"What, this old thing?" Ken looked pleased, though, and she leaned forward to give him a peck on the cheek. "And look at you!" she exclaimed, backing up to arms length. "I like your new haircut! Very modern, oui?" She glanced lightly to her right. "Good to see you, Sakai."
"A delight to see you again," Tetsuo said, his voice equally light. But they both had acquired a slight edge. "I did not realize that your name also revealed an interest in a martial art."
"It's Ken-da, not ken-do," Ken answered. "And I wouldn't know which end of that bamboo sword to hold, let alone how to beat my opponent to bits. But this--this is a fine outfit, no?" Her eyes became sharply drawn; no matter why she choose an outfit more suited for a dojo, she was clearly ready for some kind of battle. There was a reason why Ken did not often work in Asia, but preferred the West. Her battles with the various Marketplace establishments in the Far East were legendary, as were her father's before he died; they had both shared a marked dislike of the Japanese block for their own reasons. Memories were long in the East, she would sometimes say with a shrug. No matter how carefully the Marketplace cultivated an air of neutrality, there were always political and historical differences between some people. Chris was grateful for the sight of a convenient excuse to move on.
"Michael!" Chris snapped. "Find out what room I'm in and don't dawdle."
"Yes, sir," Michael said, struggling with the luggage and too obviously dismayed that he couldn't join in the mingling. As slaves approached, he had to shake his head over and over again, until the message spread not to help him. He turned toward the registration room to the left of the main stairs and both Ken and Tetsuo relaxed somewhat at the distraction. Tetsuo was the first to excuse himself, omitting the usual reminder to schedule a meeting, and Ken kissed Chris again and gave him a hug.
"Is that the boy you told me about?" she said, appraising Michael's body from behind, cocking her head as if she could see his hips and flanks through the hanging garment bag. Apparently the edge she had acquired was gone again as she switched her attention to something new. "Pretty! Lend him to me. I've brought the two--they haven't had a toy in months!"
Chris chuckled at the thought of Ken's rapacious matched set of personal servants and what twisted and exhausting use they could make of Michael. He nodded. "Done," he said. "But there is a price."
"Anything!" she replied extravagantly. Then, her eyes narrowed again and she adopted an arms akimbo stance that looked rather appropriate in her new outfit. "Oh, you mean a real price!" she said accusingly. She wagged her finger at him, making tsking sounds between her teeth. "You should know better, white boy. The proposal you've placed before the Academy is more complicated than it seems to be--I am still not quite comfortable with all the potential... ramifications."
Chris shrugged. "I am sure we can find some grounds to agree upon," he said. "But I was really thinking of asking you for a proper introduction to your friend from Seattle and the junior she's brought with her."
Ken had the decency to look abashed, and Ken Mandarin looking ashamed was quite a sight. "I am so sorry," she said, with just the slightest evidence of a blush underneath her wheat-colored skin. "Of course, I shall introduce you to Marcy, she wishes to make your acquaintance as well. Naturally! But now, you must excuse me, so that I can go and commit suicide over my stupidity." She reeled away in a false swoon, and threw herself through the open panels of the exterior wall into the garden beyond. Her gutter Cantonese trailed behind her as she cursed herself. Chris smiled as he saw two Chinese gentlemen gaze after her in shock and horror.
But her gaffe had communicated more than she had perhaps thought. Chris's smile faded as he turned to look for Michael, thinking of the comfort of a long, hot bath. It wasn't even the first day of The Academy, and the battle flags were out. And for the first time ever, he wasn't the squire on this crusade--he was a goddamn knight.
Trainers from all over the world were converging on the Shimada Resort and Ryokan, located deep in the green hills about forty miles outside of Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Autumn in this tropical area was lush and warm, and the gleaming wood beams of the Japanese country-style inn glowed in the sunlight. It had been specially emptied for the week, entirely staffed by Marketplace employees and servitors of varying levels. Stone lanterns marked the long drive into the property, and a beautiful red and gold gate framed one of the splendid views of the valley to the east. There was a bubbling stream on the northern edge, where outdoor baths were also available, framed by raised dark oak platforms. Ornamental gardens could be seen from almost every window. Small ponds were dense with almost garishly colored lilies, hidden between the trees. It was a breathtakingly beautiful site that invited exploration and an experience of sensuality.The army of service staff moved with the practiced ease of slave veterans--no one would embarrass themselves by sending a marginally acceptable piece of property to serve at the Academy. In fact, it was common for trainers to bring a special slave with them, a way for those lucky individuals to see perfection in action.
The resort was cunningly split between Western and Japanese style accommodations. Much of the actual conference area was Western, with high tables and straight backed office chairs and rooms that were exact copies of every other hotel room in the world, clean, small, and efficient. But in his annoying way, Chris had insisted upon a room in the ryokan section of the resort, a traditional Japanese room, and Michael had prepared to deal with one.The pictures he had studied and the descrip- tions in the tourist guidebooks had been enough to let him know that there were in fact, beds in the room--or at least they were behind panels somewhere. He gazed at the perfectly proportioned room, counting the tatami mats that made every room in such a traditional arrangement uni- form sizes.There was an ikebana arrangement of a floating lily in shallow water over dull, gray, water-smoothed stones, set in a niche across from the door; a perfect position for the late afternoon sun to hit it. He found that he couldn't remember what the little niche was called, and tried to hide his panic by unpacking.
Belatedly, he remembered his shoes, and took them off immediately, carrying them to the door. He had been gratified to see that many of the guests were shod in the shoes they wore outside. But in this traditional wing, where the flooring in the rooms was the ubiquitous tatami matting, you had to leave your street shoes outside, wear slippers on the wooden floors, and socks or bare feet inside.
Oh, jeeze, and I walked through the whole place! Why didn't someone stop me? Did I pass the slippers on my way in without noticing? Wasn't there supposed to be a special kind of porch, a genkan, something like that? Were staff people right now snickering over his error and whispering about him? He was about to slide the door open and dash down the hall to the main entrance, but naturally, that was when Chris got there.
"That'll be ten," Chris said, brushing by him. Chris had already removed his boots, and his small feet were neatly encased in Japanese slippers. He kicked them off and stooped to place them neatly by the door, toes facing out. "Excellent," he said with a sigh, after turning again to scan the room."I'll be bathing. Have everything unpacked and my strap out by the time I'm finished."
"Yes, sir," Michael said glumly.
"And don't worry, Michael," Chris said cheerfully as he took one of the ryokan yukatas hanging on one wall.The light cotton robes all bore a stylized gate pattern in soft, pale gray on a much darker background. "You have an infinite number of potential fuck-ups ahead of you over the next couple of days. You had to start somewhere." He chuckled as he padded out the door, leaving Michael to slide the lightweight panel shut after him.
Michael bit back even the thought of a retort, one of the hardest things in his new regimen of exercises. Back in the spring, when he had impulsively volunteered to be trained as "a classic"--a rigorous, seven year process involving everything from this current apprenticeship assignment to actually being sold and living for a term as a slave--he thought he had considered every possible drawback to the situation. As usual, however, he was dead wrong.
He hadn't counted on being immediately assigned to Chris Parker, the man he had somehow developed a massive crush on, despite years of knowing that one, he was just not very attracted to men, and two, he was certainly not a bottom. He hadn't counted on suddenly becoming the real low man on the totem pole at an entry-level training house, subject to the whims of everyone except the damn slaves in training, and occasionally to them as well. And finally, he hadn't counted on liking it so damn much.
It was perverse beyond belief. No matter how difficult things got, from Chris's degrading taunts about his skill level or thought processes, to the various hazards of working with no less than three demanding trainers, to the sheer pain of his continual punishments, erotic and not so, his heart beat out a passionate plea for more and he slept like a baby. Even his constant stream of self-castigation seemed to be part of this whole process to make him stunningly aware of his place in the world-- and more firmly convinced that it was right for him.
And this was only the beginning! If Anderson and Chris weren't bullshitting him, they intended to actually sell him to someone within the year. At first, he had been eager for the chance to prove himself, but lately, he had been wondering if, in fact, it was all some sort of head- game. After all, they both admitted that almost no one was trained like that any more, and Chris hadn't mentioned this potential sale since they were both at Anderson's place. Plus, there was the fact that despite his occasionally insufferable arrogance about these "Old Guard" methods, Chris admitted that he had not fulfilled them himself. Not adequately, at any rate.
Of course, Chris had been in some sort of service, somewhere. It showed in the way he perfectly deferred to Grendel and Alex back at the House, and in the way he acted toward Anderson. But there were no sale records for him in the Marketplace. His experience had to have been some sort of private arrangement that somehow still counted. Michael was convinced that his own "sale" was really just going to be some kind of reassignment to another trainer, possibly Grendel and Alex, since they seemed friendly with Anderson and busy enough to use him. But if that happened, he feared that Chris would no longer be part of the picture. There was no way they really needed two under-trainers, and the house seemed over-staffed as it was, what with Rachel pretty much running things and the trainee slaves doing the scut work.
The thought of continuing his training without Chris--no matter how much he hated him--was very disturbing.
It was, in fact, mortifying.
Even now, as he found the closets and hung up Chris's suits and smoothed out his ties, (and found a western style shoe rack), Michael could feel his cock straining against the narrow cotton rope that Chris had wrapped around it before their connection in Tokyo. It had been almost three hours to Okinawa, and another hour and a half on the road to get here. But that was nothing, Michael thought ruefully. At least the rope didn't have little spikes on the inside of it, like the parachute/cock- ring assembly that he had been directed to pack along with the other items that Chris used to keep him aware of his status. It didn't matter, really. Anything that Chris used on him, touched him with, said to him, seemed important beyond all logic now, imbued with erotic and emotional significance.
The only regularly used toy not in the bag, as a matter of fact, was Michael's now well-used gag. Because, for once, he was free to speak for the entire trip--free to ask questions, engage in conversations, even-- chat about the weather. After months of isolation, he was almost feverishly eager to have those experiences. And cautious as hell, too. Just because you are allowed to do something doesn't mean you can do it badly. That was one of his most underlined notes in his precious book of hints and rules, compiled since Anderson, the Trainer of Trainers, reminded him that obedience to her was more important than what he felt was correct. If he took the opportunity to speak up, his voice had to be controlled, his questions intelligent, his conversation appropriate. If not....
He pulled Chris's strap out of the garment bag pocket and laid it out on the low, polished, pine table. The handle was dark with palm sweat, the smooth leather worn by years of use. Michael couldn't remember three days that had gone by in the past five months without feeling it. Even now, there were fading bruises on the backs of his thighs.
As he moved and felt them, he sighed in pleasure. Oh man, he thought, fighting to keep his motions sure, his attention on the task before him. This is as far from where I was a year ago as I could get!
And it felt so damn good!
He had no illusions about his presence here. He was not here to serve anyone but Chris, and he was not here as an example of anything except for what he was--a raw, untrained man marked by Anderson as having a chance at becoming a trainer. And while some people would envy his position, Michael still felt the tug of ambivalence from time to time.Was he crazy, thinking that he stood a chance at being anything but a dilettante, Chris's favorite accusation? Was he clinging to this trainer-in-training facade in order to avoid considering becoming a full-time slave?
As if to relieve his worries, his cock gently settled underneath its bondage, no longer strangling itself in frustrating tumescence. There was never a true erotic attraction to being a full-time slave, never that jolt of feeling right that he had read about in so many slave interviews and reports. So clearly, he was made to be a trainer, and this newfound passion for use, abuse, and humiliation was directed toward one man and one man only. And since Chris made it clear that his loyalties lay in only one direction--that of Imala Anderson and her methods and traditions--and that he was certainly not interested in owning a slave, then that settled things. Period. Nothing more to say.
Yet when Chris came back and Michael got on all fours and presented his ass for a beating, his traitorous cock was hard as a rock, red, and straining painfully between the white strands of rope, and every stroke drove the breath from him in gasps that were ecstatically pure. And his thanks were as genuine as his obedience and his gasps. As usual, he forgot all about how cut and dry everything was, needing only to feel the slight brush of Chris's hand on his head to make him wriggle with pleasure and ache to be better--so much better--in the future.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for attending this year's Academy. On behalf of the International Coalition of Trainers and Handlers and the Asian and South Pacific offices of The Marketplace, I welcome you to Okinawa and this beautiful resort, provided for our use by the Shimada family." The speaker was Noguchi Shigeo, the undisputed Trainer of Trainers in his part of the world. At least eighty years old (some said ninety), he seemed to be made of seasoned timber, as ancient and creaky as the central beam of an old country house. His English was precise and British, his manners impeccable, his training methods unspeakably brutal. It was said that his school rejected at least a dozen applicants for each position, and then weeded out half of those who were accepted. In the small world of the Marketplace, that was quite considerable, especially because although he was always cordial and respectful, no gai-jin--no foreigner--had ever been accepted for training in his house. Plus, his rejections were still considered among the most desired of private trainers, especially if they had survived the first year.
Tetsuo Sakai had been trained by Noguchi. Like all of those who had received the touch of this venerable master, he was standing to Noguchi's left side, mingled with the crowd, yet easily within sight of the old man and proudly attentive. It didn't matter that Tetsuo had been an independent trainer for decades or that his house was the acknowledged second, right behind Noguchi's, in slave training. What mattered was knowing where you came from.
The rest of the room was still settling as Noguchi went into the extensive list of welcomes and introductions of the various Marketplace representatives who were going to be present for the Academy's session. Slaves circulated, bearing bound copies of the schedule and various position papers that were to be shared, discussed, and debated.There was also one formal proposal this year, requiring a vote of the membership. Interpreters buzzed constantly; there was a tight edge of excitement in the air.
Ken Mandarin had made the attempt to look interested and be quiet, but as soon as she got hold of the Academy schedule, she flipped it open, scanned the contents, and immediately began turning pages to the section she wanted to read first. Several of Noguchi's men gave her short, stern glances, but she ignored them, preferring the circle of spotters who had congregated around her, just as eager to see what was going to be the real business of the week. We are the real outlaws here, Ken thought smugly, as she and her peers began to scan the items that might affect them. Perhaps it is not at all where you came from, she reflected, but where you are going. And neither this old man nor my pompous little American friend is going to tell me where I am going.
Yes, there it was.They had scheduled an obscene amount of time for debating, as usual. Talk, talk, talk, they always had to talk everything to death! She sighed theatrically and shut the binder sharply, noting who ignored the sound, who jumped and tried to pretend they didn't hear it, and who actually turned to see. It was gratifying to have her powers of observation. It was all part of what made her so good at what she did. Damn to hell anyone who thought they could tell her what her job was.
She felt that the critical mass of her fellows had digested the material, and deliberately scanned each of them in turn, letting them see that she was prepared to fight. Even the oldest one there deferred to her--as was only correct. A pity that she and Parker would come to heads over this, but c'est la guerre. She turned her attention back to Noguchi, who was finally getting to some of the information she had come to hear.
"As our schedule is heavy and our time limited, we shall limit discussion on the major proposal to our formal debates. I respectfully request that the usual 'hallway discourse' be as limited as possible, so that all of our attendees will have the most complete information possible." There was a slight wave of laughter at this valiant attempt to control the second oldest human instinct in the world, that to gather and gossip. Noguchi gave the slightest of shrugs, acknowledging the futility of his position, but his face was stern, his voice slightly harder. "When matters of such import come before us, they deserve our best efforts for resolution," he added."It is not an exaggeration to say that the very character of our institution might change after this meeting of the Academy. I encourage all of our members to be cooperative both in the process, and in the final results, whatever they may be."
"Even if we are disenfranchised by this process?" Ken called out, stirring those around her to muted agreements.
Shigeo Noguchi lowered his gaze to her, slowly and with the great majesty that was his to bear. The anger of his students and the surprise of those who would never presume to interrupt such a grandfather in their midst was perfectly palpable. Ken tossed it all off with a casual sniff and stared back at the man with a perfectly insolent smile on her lips.
"I look forward to the debates with great pleasure," the old man said simply. "But I know no amount of talk will ever disenfranchise you, Ms. Mandarin."
The light laughter broke the momentary tension until Ken laughed herself. She gave another of her dramatic bows toward Noguchi and turned to leave. He seemed not to take any offense, and continued his introductory words as she and several others quietly left the room.
Michael itched to follow her. Now, there was a hot babe, he thought, fully aware of the massive disrespect such a thought entailed. He had never been formally introduced to her, had only heard of her, seen her from afar. He knew that she and Chris were old acquaintances, if not friends, and that she had spotted several excellent clients, both for Chris and for Chris's employers, Alex and Grendel. In fact, Chris had told him that Ken's patience when scoping out potential clients by far exceeded his own. Not a bad compliment from a man who thought that patience came before obedience in the proper attributes of someone in service. Or those who trained them.
Even still, Michael liked the way she looked, exotic and playful, strong and passionate. He liked the way she moved quickly and gracefully, assuming that people would move out of her way. She looked like the kind of woman who had had people surrounding her to see to her every whim for a long, long time. It was frankly sexy, enticing, yet slightly dangerous. In his older days in California, he would have played with her in a minute, gone hunting with her, if she wanted to, and enjoyed her wickedness when it was aimed at someone who was helpless before it. He smiled slightly, imagining her in a latex cat suit and spiked heels.
"I'm loaning you to her later," Chris said casually.The level of sound rose in the room as people applauded Noguchi and broke up into their little social groups. Michael paled, unsteady for a moment. Damn him! Damn all of them! Was he so transparent that they could all read his mind, or was he so simple that they could all stay two steps ahead of him?
"Speak," Chris snapped.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Michael replied smartly. He had learned that gratitude fit almost every occasion and used it liberally. This time, it seemed appropriate, because Chris nodded and let the matter drop. In any event, there was someone approaching, from behind Michael's shoulder, according to how Chris's eyes were tracking. Carefully, Michael edged out of the way, and sighed when he managed to move to the side just as the newcomer came close enough for a personal greeting.
"Mr. Parker, what a pleasure to see you again."The voice behind him was low, smooth, and gently accented; he turned his body to stand behind Chris and to his left, and saw one of the most beautiful women he could possibly imagine.
There he had been, just seconds into a full-fledged erotic fantasy about this slender, angular Asian woman with spiky hair and high cheekbones. But now, Ken Mandarin faded before something ever so much more--ethereal. And Michael struggled to understand why.
She was in her fifties, maybe even her sixties, it was hard to guess. Her smooth, olive-toned skin was faintly glowing in health, that kind of color you got when you lived in a warm place. Her hair was a rich, lush black, touched lightly with silvery white, making you guess at her age, mocking you with the possibilities. She had large, bold, dark eyes, and a body that Americans would describe as heavy. But when she stood and offered an elegantly manicured hand toward Chris Parker, she seemed as tempting as Aphrodite freshly come from the waves, as stunning as an Italian movie actress, as inviting as a warm embrace.
Chris took her hand and kissed the back, European style. Michael couldn't think of any other way to greet this woman. He realized that his mouth and lips had dried out, and nervously swallowed, hoping that Chris would not introduce him. I'll just fade into the background, he thought, praying that his palms weren't sweating.
"Ninon," Chris said, pronouncing it like it was French. "I was so pleased to get your note."
"And I was pleased to see that you have at last truly joined us," the woman said."Your writings have been so useful to me, it seemed a shame you were not more active among us. I hope that I am among the first to give you my full support and encouragement."
"I'm honored by your interest," Chris replied. "I just hope that the upcoming discussions won't be--unpleasant to you."
"Oh, my young friend," she laughed, and her laugh was like something warm and soft thrown over bare shoulders."I have been here much longer than you, and have faced terrible battles in the past. Surely, you know that it is those moments of unpleasantness which accentuate the moments of joy."
"Of course." Chris smiled, and was that just the slightest touch of color in his cheeks? Well, there was certainly a lot of heat pumping through Michael's face, and it intensified when Chris turned toward him and indicated him. "Ninon, please allow me to present Michael, who was chosen by Anderson to train under me."
Michael felt buffeted when the woman turned her gaze toward him. He bowed deeply, appropriately for a person of such little status, and, he hoped, low enough for Chris's judgment. She smiled at him, though, and it made everything instantly better. She did not extend her hand to be kissed, for which he was terribly grateful. He didn't think that it would be appropriate to take one of those pretty hands into his suddenly huge and sweaty paw.
"Ninon is one of the greatest gifts the modern Marketplace has," Chris said. "And her specialty will interest you, Michael."
"Yes, sir?" Michael managed to say.
"Ninon exclusively trains pleasure slaves." Chris smiled again, and Michael gulped as Ninon turned to look into his eyes again.
"Is that truly a field of interest to you, Michael?" she asked, her eyebrows raising delicately. "As a client, or a trainer?"
"I--I hope to be a trainer," Michael stammered.
"How charming. And fortunate for you, as well.You are at an awkward age for pleasure training," she said gently. "Too young for the proper experience, too old to be fully trained in the most proper way. But a few months with me, and I would teach you things about pleasure which you could have never imagined."
I bet, Michael thought, bitterly hating the way the spikes were digging into his balls and around the base of his cock. "It would be an honor for me to study under you ma'am," he said. He hated the way it sounded the minute the words left his mouth, but again her smile made everything better. When she turned her attention back to Chris, he tried to breathe in deeply and gently and regain his composure.
"Surely, you have many allies in this," she was saying.
"All I need," Chris said confidently. "And I suspect that many of those who have indicated opposition will come around before our meeting is over. I've found that there are a lot of irrational fears surrounding what this might mean for independents, especially spotters." He gave her a meaningful look, and she nodded wisely.
"Still," she said gently, "it is needed. The quality of merchandise has been declining for years now. I have seen common threads; a lack of dedication, a lack of the proper spark, the passion." She shook her head sadly. "However, we cannot place the blame entirely upon the clientele. We must bear this responsibility, as we are the foundation upon which the Marketplace exists. We are more than the conduit, Mr. Parker--we are the shapers of service. Surely, we must admit that there are universal standards of acceptability."
"Of course we do," came a deep voice from behind her. "We accept the standards and teach them. But we can't allow any governing board authority over us and our methods.That would go against the very essence of our origins and place in the world."
Michael cringed at the sound of that confident, cheerful voice. Chris and Ninon turned to welcome Geoff Negel into their little conversation, and Michael wished even harder that he could sink into the floor, unnoticed.
"Mr. Negel," Ninon said, extending her hand. He shook it, American style, and offered his hand to Chris as well. Michael half expected his trainer to refuse it, but without the slightest hesitation, Chris returned the greeting.
"A pleasure to see you again, Ninon, Parker," Geoff said. His eyes sparkling, he turned deliberately to Michael and held his hand out. "And great to see you, Mike! You're looking well."
"Thank you, Mr. Negel," Michael said softly, surrendering to the moment. He shook his old trainer's hand nervously, and stepped even further back away from the little group.
"Oh, please, we've never stood on that kind of formality," Geoff said cheerfully. "Call me Geoff, the way you always did."
Michael glanced at Chris, but the man didn't come to his rescue. "Uh, thank you, Mr. Negel, I'm honored. But, I'm--it would be improper for me to address you so informally. Please excuse me."
"Of course, of course," Geoff murmured. "You're quite the stickler for formality, Parker, aren't you?"
"Quite." Chris said with a slight smile. "Which is why I see we shall be the principle opponents over this issue."
Geoff opened the binder and read, "'Proposed: That the International Coalition of Trainers and Handlers create a standing committee of Standards of Training, including a certification process for accrediting new Trainers.' It sounds so innocuous, Parker. But what you're suggesting could destroy one of the primary freedoms we enjoy in the Marketplace--the ability to create new and innovative methods, to challenge the past and create for the future. I mean no disrespect, I hope you realize this. Your own methods are documented successes, and I have learned much from your input in Anderson's reports. Anderson herself is truly the greatest American trainer of our generation, I will admit that freely. But there are other styles--perhaps better, perhaps equal, certainly worse. But styles which deserve to succeed or fail on their own merits, not on your personal judgment."
"What makes you think that my standards would be the sole basis for accreditation, Negel?" Chris asked. "My proposal clearly outlines a method for establishing the criteria by committee."
"And who selects the committee?" Geoff asked, waving one hand dismissively. "We all know that's where the real issue is. Who is selected to rule over us, and what training methods will be approved of, hm?"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen. Surely, this is one of those discussions best left for the debating floor?" Ninon said lightly, touching each man and smiling at both in turn.
Geoff immediately assumed a contrite expression."Of course, Ninon! I apologize. I really just meant to come over and say hello. I'm sorry I interrupted your conversation.You'll both hear enough from me later! See you in session, Parker. Bye, Mike." He turned and entered the crowd, immediately greeting someone else and getting drawn into another conversation.
"The battle is joined," Ninon said softly.
"I wish that he was the worst of my opponents," Chris said lightly. "You know where the real battle will be--with the spotters." He coughed, and then added, "And the British."
The older woman nodded, and laid her hand lightly on Chris's arm again. She looked sympathetic. "Yes, I have heard. Still, I believe we should gather our friends close, and be sure to listen very carefully to what Mr. Negel and his supporters are saying. It would be a shame to lose because we have underestimated the feelings of those like him. I think I shall see who else is here and in agreement. Let us share our resources at breakfast, yes?"
For a second, Chris Parker looked almost shocked, but he recovered and nodded gravely. "An excellent idea, thank you, Ninon."
"No, no, thank you. And may I say, Chris, you are looking more handsome than ever! Good-bye, young Michael, and do try to calm down." She smiled kindly, and as she turned to leave, Mike colored into a blush.
God, this was going to be difficult! It was one thing to just be there, acting as Chris's valet and all around flunky, being nice and polite to everyone. But he had been dreading this eventual meeting with Geoff Negel. To have it coincide with the erotic flush he had felt upon meeting Ninon was just typical of the exquisite timing that made his life so hard.
Geoff Negel had been the first Marketplace professional that Michael had ever met, back when his first exposure to this underground world was through his Uncle Niall, a Hollywood writer. Somewhat undecided as to what his own professional life was going to look like, Michael had leapt at the chance to become a trainer of real-life slaves, and for many months, lived the idyllic life of a man for whom no pleasure was denied. But then, he screwed up royally and put his own training in jeopardy. By sheer luck, the East Coast trainer known as Anderson responded to his request for further training. Little had he known where that trip would take him, exactly how far from the warm, sheltering hedonism of Geoff Negel's California-based house of slave training.
He felt ashamed; as though he had been stripped and exposed before Geoff, and made to grovel like a penitent slave. Geoff hadn't gone for all this "in order to be a good trainer, you have to know how to be a good slave" stuff. In fact, he had spoken derisively of it, confident in his own methods, his own style. To stand there in front of him behaving like a slave in training, to refuse his invitation to call him by his first name-- it was humiliating. How could something that was so right, day to day, be so damn hard minute to minute?
"Was it really so difficult?" Chris asked, in his casually maddening way.
"Yes, sir," Michael said. "I'm sorry I let it show."
"Well, it takes practice to know exactly how much emotion to display," Chris said. Apparently, he was in a generous mood. "If your intention was to show Geoff that he could effectively humiliate you, you did well. If your intention was to make Ninon treat you like a clumsy, shy adolescent, I'd say you were marvelously successful."
Or, maybe he was just saving the cutting remarks for last, Michael thought.
"Never mind that, though--Ninon has that affect on many people, regardless of orientation or taste." The corner of Chris's mouth twitched slightly, and Michael knew he was flashing on some pleasant memory. "If she had not produced that effect on you at first, she would have no doubt tried for something even more devastating."
"I've never been attracted to a woman who--" Michael hesitated, trying to find the right words.
"Was so much older than you? Who was not two slender legs supporting breasts of a more than moderate size?"
"It's not that, it's just she's--I mean, she isn't--she's hardly unattractive!" Michael sputtered.
"Certainly not. But it is her profession to make people who can attract attention, divert it, keep it. Naturally, in order to pass that knowledge on, she is the master of the art."
Oh, so it was a lesson. Michael tried to compose himself. "If I heard her physical description, I wouldn't have thought she could have that effect on me," he admitted. "Is she Italian? I couldn't place the accent."
"Greek," Chris said, with a slight nod. "Her house is on Mykanos, surely one of the most beautiful spots on earth. I guarantee that you would find it absolutely intoxicating. Most trainees do. But such training isn't for you. Think about that, and write me a few words on it tonight."
"Yes, sir," Michael said. He was doing a lot of writing these days. And unlike Anderson, Chris not only checked up on him, but read and commented on everything.
In fact, Michael mused, this seemed an awful lot like junior high school. He spent far too much time reading and writing, and kept getting interrupted by inconvenient boners. He hid a grin as he wondered whether that would make a good entry in his journal. Probably not.
As trainers would continue to arrive the next day, dinner was an informal affair, with ad hoc groups meeting in separate rooms or enjoying an array of fresh sushi being prepared on one of the open porches. Michael finally was freed from his duty at Chris's side, as Chris went off for some private meeting with one of the Japanese trainers. Michael had practically jumped for joy; instead, he smiled and thanked Chris as politely and warmly as he could and dashed off to enjoy a tour of the premises uninhibited by anything save his fear of being unintentionally rude to someone. I can manage to stay out of trouble, he swore to himself, after trying a few clearly identifiable pieces of raw fish from a table hosting two stern sushi chefs. He found that the food was not quite what he knew as Japanese food per se, and tried to act as nonchalant as possible when confused by dishes of what looked like little nuggets of something pale and soft. Noticing several people digging into them and popping them like peanuts, he tried them and found himself chewing something that tasted remarkably like incredibly dense Velveeta.
Weird. Also weird was the fact that a lot of the foods seemed spicy hot, especially when dabbed with a red pepper sauce that seemed very popular with the locals. He smeared a healthy portion on top of a piece of sashimi and took a bite, and felt like his mouth was being seared. As he gasped and tried not to choke, someone pressed a small cup into his hand and he swallowed its contents compulsively. Not the best idea, as it turned out. Expecting the light taste of fine sake, he was met with a much denser, harsher feel, like a brandy, which did precious little to soothe his tongue and quite a bit to make him dizzy.
"Uchinaa guchi wakai miseemi?" A tall, broad and bearded Japanese man demanded of him. It was one of the local trainers, of course, and his face was so composed that the loud voice seemed terrifying. He helpfully repeated himself in a slower, and much louder tone and Michael made a helpless gesture, still spitting around the array of tastes in his mouth.
"Sir, please excuse my rudeness, but Master Sato wishes to know if you speak Okinawan Japanese," said a young woman suddenly next to him. By the collar around her throat and the careful phrasing, he knew she was one of the many interpreter slaves who were wandering around, and he was very grateful for her sudden appearance. She had a ribbon pinned to her blouse that listed English, Deutsch, Espanol, Italiano, and two names in kanji, one of which he assumed was Okinawan Japanese. Michael wasn't even sure whether there was a big difference between Okinawan and mainland Japanese, or whether it was like the difference between Mexican and Puerto Rican Spanish. But he was glad to see her anyway.
"Yes--er, no," he said carefully, finally feeling a slight easing in the burning sensation. "Thank you, please tell Mr. Sato that I am sorry that I don't speak Okinawan, but thank him for his kind concern for me." Michael handed the little cup back with a sheepish grin, and as Sato heard his response, he nodded and smiled.The smile barely broke through the stone of that face. He said "Ma'asan, eh?" and elbowed Michael and winked, and then bowed slightly and left.
"Ma'asan?" Michael asked the interpreter.
"It means, 'tasty,' Sir." she replied with a brilliant smile. She was not even five feet tall, Michael realized. Tiny, like all the women in adventure books about big burly men finding themselves in Japan. Her ink black hair was short, though, appallingly short. He wondered if it was custom, or her owner's taste, or even a punishment. Without thinking about it, he brushed one hand across the soft layers of shorn hair, so much like an animal's coat. She didn't even blink, only took his caress with the same calm confidence she had radiated when interpreting. But her smile seemed to waver and then get suddenly wider.
"Thank you for your help," he said, suddenly embarrassed by his action. It had been so long since he felt free to touch a slave, he thought. Yet how natural it felt, how comforting to know that she would stand there and allow him to run his hand across her head. But did he do something wrong by touching her? No one had said anything to him about such things.
"It is my honor to serve, Sir," she said."Do you require anything more from me?"
"Yes--yes," Michael said. He didn't want her to leave. He wanted to touch her again. Most of all, he wanted to take her into one of those secluded groves and fuck her brains out. Instead, he asked her what he had been drinking, and how to get another one.
"It is called Awamori, Sir," she said, elegantly indicating in which direction he should walk. "It is considered one of Okinawa's most famous exports. It is like brandy, and the Awamori here is of the finest quality." She remained calm and polite, but that initial smile was now barely a memory. Her face was frozen in a kind of cheerful grin that made him shiver, and he recalled that one of the ways that Japanese people showed embarrassment was by smiling. So he had done something wrong by touching her, dammit. Also, he knew a factoid when he heard one; she was slipping into a tour guide mode, and she was much more important as an interpreter. He sighed and shooed her away to help someone else while he waited for one of the servers to pour him a new cup.
"You must watch yourself when you drink this fine beverage," came Ken Mandarin's voice from over his shoulder. "It is a drink that seduces, you know. You think you have not had enough, and then suddenly, you find yourself in--how do you say it? A compromising position."
"Ms. Mandarin, I'm honored to meet you," he said, surprised at how cleanly it came out.The he remembered that Chris had arranged to "loan" him to her, and he blushed. She smiled in her predatory way, and tossed back a cup of the strong drink and sighed with satisfaction. How dangerous she seemed, especially in contrast to the slight, composed translator who had come to his rescue a moment before.
"Yes, I am sure you are!" she replied, putting her cup down. "So, what are you doing off of your leash, hm?" She started to walk away, and he felt compelled to follow--a question was hardly a dismissal, and she was one of the big shots here.
"I've been freed to wander," he said, keeping up with her. "I am even allowed out to play from time to time," he added daringly.
"Oh, ho, you are? How terrible for you. Do you not find it easier to be controlled, knowing that your world is ever safer than the traffic you are playing in now?" She waved merrily to someone who had nodded her way and turned suddenly back into the hotel.The cool shade of the evening was so pleasant inside, warm wood everywhere, muted light in the corners. Michael scrambled to keep up because she seemed purposeful now.
"I'm not a good porch dog," he said.
"That's not what I heard," she said, suddenly stopping and flashing a very nasty grin. "In any event, you shall certainly meet a rather fascinating doggie trainer later on, and we shall see what he makes of you."
What the hell am I supposed to say to that? Michael wondered. "Well--I'll be honored to meet anyone you wish to introduce me to, Ms. Mandarin."
"Ha!" she laughed, smacking him smartly on the arm."You're a good boy. Come in and meet some of my friends--I make no promises that they will not bite!" He looked around, and saw the half-open sliding door that she was pointing to. Instantly, he slid it open wide enough for them to enter, and found himself in a small western-style meeting room, with a regular sized table and real chairs. Seated around the table were five individuals he had seen earlier with Ken. Her fellow spotters, most likely. Suddenly, he realized that this might not be the smartest place for him to be. If Chris was stirring up trouble with the spotters, and he was Chris's... Chris's... trainee. Student. Junior trainer. Boy? Whatever.
"Heya, this is Mike here," Ken said, sprawling across one of the chairs, one leg dangling over the arm. "Meet the real people who make the Marketplace work, Mikey."
Michael sighed and bowed as the people in the room introduced themselves. There was no awkwardness with these people, and no one extended a hand to shake his. Only one of them was known to him, a man named Paul Sheridan from New York City, a friend of Chris's older brother, Ron. Paul had literally decades of experience in the field, and this was the first time Michael had seen him out of some form of leather. In fact, Paul was wearing a rather loud Hawaiian shirt over a pair of cut-off jeans, certainly one of the most informal people there. But he had never met the darkly tanned woman who introduced herself as Shoshana, or the vaguely sinister Italian man who barely scanned him for an instant before nodding and shrugging as though the meeting was of no consequence at all.The last man was a slender, brown-skinned man who was engaged in the Academy schedule and barely nodded to him when he was introduced. It was one of those moments when Michael realized he had been examined and quickly regarded as a person of little consequence. As always, it hurt.
Michael felt an increasing need to leave, but couldn't figure out how to elegantly get out of the situation without insulting Ken Mandarin or showing how scared he was.
"Do you know why we are here?" Ken asked him, as he bowed to his final introduction. She looked pointedly at him, and he felt that sinking sensation that meant he was about to Learn a Lesson.
For a second, he thought of answering her with a quip, but decided against it. "I know the purpose of the Academy is to encourage communication and learning among the trainers," he said carefully. "You meet every year, but not everyone attends. I know that for years, it has been the custom of the Academy to bestow an honorary accreditation to senior trainers who are sponsored by previous members, and that this was always a voluntary process, something like getting a certificate from a civic organization. And I know that this year, there's a proposal to make accreditation into a formal status instead of an optional one, and you have to vote on that."
There was a derisive snort from the only other Californian in the room, a man Michael had never worked with when he was out there.
"Oh, don't be so harsh, Daniel, everything he says is true," Ken said waving a hand at him. "So what do you think happens to us, Mike, hm? What will happen to the freelance people, the spotters who train, the trainers who spot? What will happen to those who might not get this, this accreditation, eh?"
"Well--we can't know that until it's tried," Michael said, knowing how awful it sounded. "Besides, it's not even clear what the qualifications of accreditation will be, you don't know who might be accepted and who not. And I know there's nothing in the works to deny people access to the Marketplace--"
"Yet!" snapped Shoshana. "Nothing yet! First they want to register us, make sure we are all in agreement, and then those who are not will be cast out."
Michael instantly put his head down and his hands behind his back. It was a posture meant to receive a rebuke, and it calmed the entire room as though they were all alpha dogs and he had turned his throat to them. Ken laughed, delighted.
"Oh, poor thing, poor thing," she crooned. "Come here and sit by me, and learn something, mmm?"
"Ma'am--" Michael began to speak, but she shushed him.
"No, no, we shall not frighten you any longer. I only want you to leave here knowing what we do for the Marketplace. Actually..." she paused meaningfully and looked into his eyes, "actually, I think you understand quite well what a spotter should and should not be, is that not true?"
Michael wished he could just hang himself there and then. But instead he sat gingerly where she pointed, even more subdued than before. She knows! he thought with a moment of anguish. Of course, Geoff must have told her, they were on the same side now.
Daniel pointed a finger at Michael and said, "People always say that spotters are the gateway to the Marketplace, and leave it at that. Well, sometimes I don't think that anyone really understands how must time and effort--and money!--goes into being a successful spotter. Come on, folks, who here spotted ten clients last year?" Ken waggled a finger, but the rest of them scowled. Daniel waved at Ken with one hand and said, "Well, we have to expect that from you, Ken, you have no other life! Besides, you pick 'em and send them off for training faster than anyone I ever heard of. I doubt you remember the names of the people you spotted last year!" That was met with friendly laughter and Ken grinned with satisfaction.
"But look at me--five damn clients last year, and I was grateful for every damn one. And you know how many people I spotted and let go?" He looked around the table.
Shoshana shrugged. "One hundred? Two? It is the same all over."
"I built the playroom, I go to all the soft events, every damn one of them. Plus, I do the swinger circuit, and the post military rounds. Know what that means? I'm on the road three weeks out of four sometimes. And when I find a good one and get 'em into training, there's no guarantee I can see 'em to the selling floor, because we're getting a higher return rate now than ever!" He was obviously worked up about this, prepared to say all these things, and in the saying, some of his anger seemed to deflate. He sank back into his seat. "What I don't need from the Academy, thank you very much, is more rules to learn, so I have to make it even harder for a new client to get into shape. And the last fucking thing I need is someone else telling me what trainers I can use if I don't have the time or talent to train."
"Trainers tend to think they have the hardest job," Shoshana said. "They are always whining about how much time they spend getting a client ready for market. But what about the time we spend making sure they are market material? What about the number of times we throw back bad merchandise, the ill-bred, the ill-motivated, the... the fakers. How many times we find out only at the last minute that they truly do not have the wish to serve and must be gotten rid of so that we can move on? How many times are our hearts broken because we cannot get a client to the right level to send them on?"
"Don't ever let them break your heart," Ken scolded. "You must be more positive! But it is true, we toss so many back into the sea! We are more than the gateway, Mike, we are the funnel, the, what is it? The strainer. Without us, these exalted trainers would be wasting all of their time going to meetings on..." she thought for a moment. "On Twenty-Four-Seven! Yes, that was the phrase, 24/7!"
"What is that supposed to mean?" the Italian asked.
"All the time. Twenty-four hours in a day and so forth. How to, 'live the lifestyle,' n'est ce pas?" Ken laughed and the others joined in. Even Michael spared a slight giggle. He had been to several seminars on just that topic, and couldn't begin to imagine what Chris would look like at one, let alone how he would participate.
"I went to one last year, as a matter of fact," Ken said, sitting up in her chair."I go to several of these conventions, these weekend meetings, although I prefer the ones most concerned with fashion for my own uses! I have found some very good clients there, very good ones. But, oh, what I go through to find them! The agony! The hours of looking, and waiting! The teasings, the bindings, and oh, oh, all the sex I must have! But you know--when the bird is in the bush, you must beat the bush to get it to fly out."
"I'm sure you hate all that bush beating," laughed Daniel.
"Oh, sometimes," Ken agreed. "But sometimes, also, one finds a moment of truth."