by M.L. Paige

A familiar high-pitched hiss filled my ears, the staticky klaxon the only warning I had that I was about to regain the rest of my senses. Then it all came flooding back: technicolor sight burning savage color in my retinas, a cacophony of chatter and shuffling and breathing, the overripe pungency of human bodies and the fecund earth they stood on, the bacterial taste of my own stale saliva mixed with the harsh chemicals of the gag that had stretched–and then numbed–the muscles in my jaw before deflating into nothing.

There was no return of my sense of touch though because the Ascendatrixes never took that one away. I suppose it was too useful to them to deny us that, no doubt the result of some belabored optimization weighing male suffering against male motivation. Under the Ascendatrixes’ merciless governance pain has always been the vector that drives us males; deprivation is just one method to amplify that pain.

The steel-toothed choke collar tightened around my calloused neck as Ascendatrix Pandora forced me to focus on the two hundred or so Ascendatrixes that stood in a wide circle, their male charges cowering at their boots and completely naked save for the mandatory implants all males are fitted with in this new world of ours. I’ve never gotten used to the sight of another male regaining his senses, the way they look as if they’ve been shoved head first into some other dimension that they are woefully unprepared to experience.

But such a sight is nothing compared to what rested at the center of our circle. There, lashed to a crude steel post by a heavy chain attached to a metal belt welded shut around his waist, was a fallen male. Well, that’s what the Ascendatrixes called them anyway but we all knew the truth. Along his body were sewn-up surgical scars where his implants had once been, patches of still wet iodine streaking his pale skin, his hands balled up and stuffed into padded leather mittens that were cracked and faded. A rusted ring gag yawned his mouth open, revealing to us all that this fallen male no longer had teeth.

The hiss in my ears faded and I heard it: the fallen male was crying. Sobbing, actually, blubbering his lungs out in a primal plea that all us males knew would go unanswered.

“Sisters,” said a booming female voice from the edge of the circle that I recognized as belonging to Prime Ascendatrix Calypso. “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my breast for coming here today to bear witness to what is perhaps the least palatable of our sacred duties: The Ritual of Emptying.”

The murmurs that spread throughout the crowd were interspersed with heady excitement. For a long time there had been barely any Rituals at all–let alone Emptyings–but in the last month alone The Ritual of Emptying had been performed weekly, signaling some sudden shift among the Ascendatrixes. Were they preparing for something? Simply demonstrating a show of force? Or, as was so often the case, were their motivations so beyond the scope of us males that it was impossible for me to truly know the ramifications?

I suppose that regardless of the answers to those questions, it didn’t matter. No male could stop the Rituals and even suggesting a desire to do so could easily land a male at the center of one. I kept as stony of a face as I could and watched as Prime Ascendatrix Calypso strode towards the center of the circle.

There was a time when I would have called her beautiful. Such a word did not seem appropriate anymore, my vocabulary now mutated by the gravity of her power. Awesome–as in filled with awe–was a word for Prime Ascendatrix Calypso, as was terrible and ethereal and omniscient. That last one I knew not to be true for the Ascendatrixes because while they were advanced they were surely not that far beyond us males.

Nevertheless Prime Ascendatrix Calypso truly did seem to know all things, no matter how insignificant. At times she even seemed to know one’s thoughts, as I can attest to from my one (and thankfully only) face-to-face encounter with her. On that day she looked into me with violet violence, her sharp stare cutting into my brain as if to read my very mind only for her to find it pitifully boring. I sensed she was looking for something, some glimmer of intel or secrecy, and I have little doubt that if she’d suspected it lurked within me it would’ve been much more than her stare that did the cutting.

Prime Ascendatrix Calypso took her time walking across the grassy field, petulant gusts of wind blowing back the heavy velvet mantle she wore at all times. Underneath that wide-shouldered ebony garment was an impossibly lithe frame covered in an iridescent second skin that caught and bent our dying sun’s rays in such a way to exaggerate her full breasts and taut everyoung hips. Unlike the other Ascendatrixes, she did not wear boots made from buckles and lace but instead went everywhere barefoot which gave her gait a strange quietude, like a predator constantly about to pounce on prey.

Another gust of wind blew back her mantle’s hood and revealed a face rarely seen. It sent electricity down my spine, reminding me of my short-lived interrogation with the Prime Ascendatrix, though I imagine it might have done that anyway if this were the first time I was glimpsing it. She had alabaster skin and violet eyes, with neon lips painted to match that were set in a perpetual sneer. From her nose hung a perfectly circular ring of diamond and I knew–as did every male–that the Prime Ascendatrix’s decoration proceeded the mandatory implants we males received, ours of course being broken circles made from metal to show how imperfect we were compared to the Ascendatrixes. And, as was the fashion for many, Prime Ascendatrix Calypso also had her jet-black hair pulled back into a tight ponytail that revealed the near-white symmetric tattoo that crowned her forehead. I’d yet to figure out the purpose of those tattoos but almost all Ascendatrixes had them; it was certainly a mark of power but was there more to it than that?

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