The next day, several people at school came to congratulate me on my interview with Jim Harcourt, including people who had given me a hard time about the posters the day before. Just as Neal had predicted, somehow I had passed the barrier into cool.
I didn’t see Captain Hart for the next two days, but he turned up at breakfast time on Thursday.
“I thought I’d walk to school with you,” he said. “I want to talk to Mike Andrews.”
“Mr Andrews?” I said. “You know him?”
“I’ve got to know him over the last week, now that he’s acting as the head at your school.”
“I’m going to see my boys again this evening,” said my aunt.
Morgan Greencross had been arrested after our confrontation with him in front of the school. His children were in care, and I knew my aunt planned to foster them.
“We’ll have supper ready when you get back,” said my uncle. “Would you like Jack or Neal to go with you? Would that be helpful?”
“Oh, Jack, could you come? Is that too dreadful a thing to ask?”
I didn’t much like the idea, but I felt I should help.
“Okay, I’ll come.”
“Meet me here at four o’clock, then,” she said.
“Is that the Greencross boys?” said the captain. “Are you really going to take them on?”
“I hope so,” she said. “There are some difficulties. We’ll see.”
Neal, the captain and I set out to walk to the school. On the way we found yet another poster with a picture of me.
His wife left him with two kids.
So they burnt him as a paedophile. They burnt the kids too.
They were twins, seven years old.
“Oh God!” I said. “It’s—it’s hard seeing that there. That’s really heavy. How long is this stuff going to go on? Aren’t there other people whose thoughts you can put on posters?”
“Of course there are. But you’re good value, Jack. C’mon, you’re intelligent enough to see why. You’re bright, good-looking, you talk well, you really care about people and you’re obviously not a yes-man. Actually, I have a plan. I want you to go on TV again.”
“Oh shit, no! Er—I’m sorry, Captain, I shouldn’t have said that. But no more interviews, not after the last one...”
“It won’t be like that at all. We want to get your first impressions of the Standard Clothing. It’ll be a friendly interview, I promise. Maybe a bit embarrassing, but in a good way. And I’d like you to come to London with me to do it. Next Tuesday.”
“What? Wow! But—you’ll have to ask my uncle. And the school, it’s term-time.”
“Your uncle said yes. I’ll talk to Mike Andrews today.”
“Hey! You must go!” said Neal.
“You want to come too?” said the captain.
“Wow! Er... no. You and Jack go together.”
I blushed. I hated blushing. Neal giggled.
“Never underestimate a Marchmont,” said the captain.
But once again, puzzled thoughts about the captain himself occurred to me, and this time I was able to drag them to the surface.
“Who are you, Captain?”
“Eh? Captain Ewan Hart, 4th Mercian Cavalry. That’s who I am.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m the adjutant pro tem to the OC, Territorial Administration, Chedley. And we’ll discuss this later.”
I giggled at him, and he gave me a quelling look. We rounded the corner onto Merlin Road, and found that the twin hoardings of yesterday had been replaced with two new ones.
You criticised the Government!
Surely it’s our duty to accept
Whatever the Government say.
I don’t think the Government want
people to suck up to them.
That’s not their way at all.
“The picture of Harcourt is ridiculous,” I said. “It makes him look like a vampire or something. Everyone knows what he looks like, he’s always on telly. They’ll just think that’s crude.”
“Just what I thought too. I’ll pass your comment on.”
“I said, we’ll discuss that later. Bloody Marchmonts, can’t take them anywhere! C’mon, here’s the school. I’ll see you later, boys...”
Neal started to say something, but I gave him a ferocious look, and he subsided, giggling.
One of Corporal Roberts’s men was waiting to see us home after school. When we got there we found a rather beaten-up military Range Rover waiting in the road, and Captain Hart in the kitchen drinking tea with my aunt. He was wearing a pair of jeans with a check shirt and a bomber jacket, the first time I’d seen him in civilian clothes, and for some reason this was stunningly attractive.
“Hi, boys! I thought I’d give Judy and Jack a lift to Masson House. I haven’t seen what’s going on there, so this is a good opportunity.”
“Is that why you’re wearing jeans?” said Neal.
“Yup. I thought a uniform probably wouldn’t make those kids happy.”
“Who are the kids there?” I asked as we got into the car.
“Most of them lost their parents in the Problems,” said my aunt. “Then there are the ones whose parents or guardians have been arrested, like my boys. And there are a fair number who are just very small and lost. No one knows who they are or where they came from.”
“How awful,” I said. “What’s going to happen to them?”
“We’ll find them people to look after them and love them,” said the captain. “There are lots of people who want kids. And they’ll go to school, like everyone else. And just like all the other kids, like you, Jack, they’ll be controlled, and we’ll make sure they grow up sane, not crazy.”
“It sounds rough.”
“It’s rough to lose your parents, you know that, Jack. But you also know that it’s not bad to be adopted by someone, if they’re nice. I think it would be nice to be adopted by Judy. She’s a sight nicer than my real parents were, I can tell you.”
“The trouble is,” said my aunt, “Morgan Greencross is still alive. That’s a bit different.”
“Tell me about your boys.”
“Matthew is twelve,” she said, “and Mark is eleven. They’re both very unhappy, and refuse to talk to anyone except me. At least they’ve stopped the ranting and cursing, now. Mark sometimes cries, which is a big improvement.”
Masson House was a huge mansion; it must have had dozens of rooms. A group of boys was playing football on the lawn, and when we went inside it was obvious that the place was crammed. A number of grownups, obviously volunteers, were in charge.
“I want to speak to the nurse,” said my aunt. “Jack, why don’t you just go to room 23 along there, and you’ll find them. They call me ‘Judy’.”
“Mightn’t they be outside somewhere?”
“No, they never go out.”
I found the room and knocked; there was no reply, so I opened the door and slipped in.
It was a small room, with two single beds and a couple of small armchairs, a chest-of-drawers and a table. Someone had put a poster of the Lake District on the wall. And sitting on the mat in front of the gas fire were two boys. They didn’t seem to be doing anything, just sitting.
They stared at the fire and ignored me.
“Hello,” I said. “I’m Judy’s nephew. I’m called Jack.”
Two solemn faces slowly turned towards me. The boys were small for their age, and agonisingly thin. Their hair was dishevelled and they and their clothes were far from clean.
“I know you,” said Matthew, the older one. “You were at the school.”
“You got our Dad taken away,” said Mark.
“Are you cross with me?” I said, sitting on one of the beds.
“God will punish you for working against his anointed,” Matthew muttered to the floor.
“What God says to me is my business,” I said. “What do you say?”
“He wants us to betray Dad,” said Matthew. “Don’t talk to him. He’s a man of sin.”
Mark’s eyes flickered over me.
“Judy’s nice. Maybe he’s nice,” he piped.
“Judy is the Whore of Babylon,” said Matthew.
“Is that what you really think? Do you think that, Mark?”
I sat down on the floor next to him and put an arm round his shoulders. The effect was amazing; he gave an astonishing wail and hugged himself to me madly. I was thunderstruck.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey...”
“Stop! Stop!” yelled Matthew. “It’s an offence before God! Bodily contact between males...”
“I don’t care, Matthew,” said Mark. “Since Mum went no one has...”
“He’s a child and I’m comforting him,” I said. “That’s the right thing to do.”
I slid my arm down Mark’s back and he winced and gasped.
“What’s the matter?”
“Don’t speak of it, never speak of it!” shouted Matthew, pointing at his brother. “God will avenge...”
“Matthew, give it a break,” I said. “Your brother’s in pain. He’s your brother! Don’t you care?”
Matthew stared at me, and I saw tears in the corners of his eyes.
“What’s wrong, Mark?” I said, moving my arm. “Can I have a look?”
“Promise you won’t tell?”
“No, I won’t promise,” I said. “But I’ll give you a chance to tell first, okay? Show me, Mark. You shouldn’t be hurting.”
“Okay,” he whispered.
He pulled off his tee-shirt. And his back was covered in cuts, bruises and welts, some old some new, some clearly dirty and infected. All over his front it was the same, mixed with cigarette burns. It made me want to throw up.
“You showed! You offended the Lord with your naked...”
Matthew was winding up to a full rant now, and suddenly I snapped.
“Matthew! None of the grownups would tell you this, but I shall. Shut up! Stop being a jerk when your brother’s hurt!”
“He shouldn’t have shown you! It’s an offence...”
“Are you hurt as well? Stop ranting and show me! Do you hear? Show me!”
He stopped dead, staring at me.
“Show me, Matthew,” I said quietly. “You know you have to in the end. You have to have these cuts seen to.”
Slowly he pulled off his tee-shirt. And if anything, he was worse than his brother.
“Come over here.”
He did. They both sat beside me on the bed, and I carefully hugged them.
“Now, we’ll wait here till Judy comes. Then we’ll let her take you to see the nurse, okay? and have these wounds seen to. Then I think it’s time you had a bath, and some clean clothes. Am I right?”
“It’s an offence,” I heard Matthew whisper.
“It’s an offence to hurt a child like you’ve been hurt. Your father hurt lots of people. I know. I saw him in the gardens, killing people...”
“We saw too,” said Mark. “He made us watch. Right up close. When those girls were burnt...”
“Oh, God help us!” Matthew whispered. “There wasn’t anything we could do. Please, please, we didn’t...”
“Everyone knows it wasn’t your fault,” I said. “Will you do something for me, Matthew?”
“Every time you feel your father telling you to shout out something about offences and stuff, just stop for five seconds and ask yourself: does this make sense? What are the real offences? Next time I come, maybe you can tell me what the real offences are.”
“Okay, I’ll try...”
At that moment I heard a knock on the door.
“Come in quietly,” I said.
My aunt came into the room. For just one moment I saw the shock on her face at the sight of the boys; then she controlled it.
“We’re having a hug,” I said. “Come and hug us, Judy.”
She knelt in front of us and hugged us all.
“Now the boys are going with you to find the nurse,” I said. “Is that okay?”
“Sounds like a good idea,” said my aunt.
“We should put our shirts on,” said Matthew.
“Should you? Really?” I said. “Think how dirty they are.”
Matthew gave a kind of sob.
“No. You’re right. We’ll go like this. You come.”
So I did. Ewan did too, and they didn’t object to that. It took some persuading, but we even got them to strip off completely for the nurse. After that, we helped to bathe both of them in one of the huge institutional baths, which must have been a hundred and fifty years old. Once they were cleaned up, they were good-looking boys although almost skeletally thin: dark-haired and with pretty, almost girlish faces.
The nurse found them some dressing-gowns to wear; then we took them back to their room and got them some supper to eat. They fell on the food as if they hadn’t eaten for a week, which wasn’t far from the truth. Finally we left them, promising to come back soon.
“How did you get them to open up?” said the nurse.
“I gave Mark a hug.”
“You touched him?” she said, appalled. “But—but that’s abusive!”
I grabbed my aunt and Ewan.
“Look! They’re both abusing me! Help!”
Both of them hugged me dramatically.
“I think you need to think about a few things, nurse,” said Ewan.
“Did you enjoy your second date with the captain?” said Neal, when we went to bed.
I sighed, exhausted.
“You have no idea how offended God was with me.”
Just as he’d said, I didn’t see Captain Hart from then until Monday morning. It was only three days, but to me it felt everlasting. I wasn’t old enough or experienced enough to recognise the state I was in. I just mooned from room to room, not knowing what to do with myself, until my uncle exasperatedly told me to get out of the house. I wandered vaguely around the town, and by chance met Dezzy, and we spent some time hanging out and chatting, which was nice. But I was really only half there, and Dezzy was clued up enough to ask who she was. I blushed and ignored him. For my part, I noticed that he seemed to be holding back from me. He didn’t invite me to his house.
Finally it was Monday. It was Corporal Roberts who had been on duty overnight; we were down to one guard now. Aunt Judy gave him some tea, and as we were digging into our porridge, Captain Hart appeared on foot.
Just the sight of him changed the whole atmosphere of the day. I found I was grinning like an idiot.
“Morning, Ewan!” said Aunt Judy. “Want some breakfast?”
“No thanks, Judy, I’ve already eaten. It’s a lovely morning so I thought I’d walk with the boys to the school myself. As the Standard Clothing’s coming today, I’d like to check there aren’t any problems. I’ll be around the school all day, in fact.”
My heart lurched. The idea of Standard Clothing still made me feel uncomfortable.
“So you won’t be wearing these clothes again, boys,” said the captain.
“Not ever?” said Neal.
“Well, no,” said the captain. “That’s the idea. You’ll wear the Standard Clothing from now on, till you’re twenty.”
“But—but my mum gave me this sweater!”
“Oh, sweetie, it’s too small for you now anyway,” said Aunt Judy, kissing the top of his head. “I tell you what—why don’t you put it in a drawer, and when you feel sad, you can get it out and think of your mum. That’s much better than wearing it till it falls to bits... Actually, I was worrying about new clothes for the boys. Lord knows where we’d find them now, even if we could afford them. This is a godsend, if the truth were told. I hope it includes shoes. Put your mum’s sweater in a drawer now, Neal, and wear something else, because I expect the school will recycle the things you have on.”
So we set out with the captain. My uncle was going to the cottage hospital, and Judy had some things she wanted to do in the square, she said.
“You still don’t feel easy with it, do you?” said the captain to me.
“No. Not really. I think—I think it’s the fact that we’re being forced. That—that feels uncomfortable.”
“Yes. But—if it were that simple it would be easy, mm? I think—be honest—that there’s something about being forced that’s exciting. But at the same time, you hate it that it’s exciting, as well. Am I right?”
He’d absolutely hit the nail on the head, and for some reason it was excruciating to admit it.
“Not good enough, Jack,” he said with a smile. “I was right, yes?”
“Yes,” I said, after a pause, and felt myself turning red.
“If the clothes are okay I won’t mind wearing them at all,” said Neal, apparently missing our exchange. “Most of my clothes are wearing out anyhow. But if they’re really naff, that’ll be awful, wearing them till we’re twenty.”
“New kinds will be released from time to time,” said the captain. “It’s just clothes, that’s all. What’s there to worry about?”
Maybe I’m making an issue out of nothing here, I thought. It is just clothes.
To my surprise, the day started well. The kids seemed largely to have accepted the idea of Standard Clothing, partly because I had complained about it. They seemed to feel that since we had had a collective moan, honour was satisfied in some way. I realised that what I was doing was being supervised by people who knew their business. It both pleased and annoyed me.
Two large lorries were parked close to the school buildings, and I noticed people coming and going around them. I supposed they were bringing our new clothes.
We went first to our classrooms, and were told to take one book from our backpacks. We took them with us to a general assembly. There the headteacher introduced Captain Hart to us, and explained that much of the day would be taken up with the issuing and fitting of the Standard Clothing. To start with, we were divided into girls and boys, and we boys, all 250 of us, were taken away from the main hall to the gym. Neal and I found each other and kept close.
Cubicles made of curtain had been set up, ten at either end of the gym, and it was explained to us that we would be called first to one end to be measured, and then to the other to be issued with our clothes.
It was going to happen, and I couldn’t suppress the nervousness and excitement I felt. We sat on the floor and tried to read. Discussions about what was going on started, and the teachers didn’t even try to stop them. I found that I was regarded as an expert on all aspects of the new government and everything it was going to do, which felt strange. Yes, I said, the new clothing was compulsory. We would have to wear it all the time, in and out of school, every day until we were twenty. The boys stared at me open-eyed; they hadn’t really understood up to now what was going to happen.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when Neal and I were among the first set of ten boys to be called up. We gave each other a high five, and went into adjacent cubicles.
Inside was Mr Andrews, whom I’d always liked, and another man whom I didn’t recognise.
“Okay, Jack, this is Mr Barton. This isn’t going to hurt or anything,” said Mr Andrews, “but it may be a bit embarrassing. Just grin and bear it, okay? Start by taking all your clothes off. Just imagine it’s showertime after gym, okay?”
I didn’t like the idea much, but I did as he said. Fortunately I wasn’t even slightly hard. I stood there, blushing, with my hands over my dick.
“We’re going to measure you now, lad, and that means putting your arms down, I’m sorry,” said Mr Barton.
I did as he said, and he was over me with a measuring tape. I’d no idea there were so many places to measure! Along my arms, straight and bent in various ways, my wrists, my neck, down my back and front, round my chest and waist, across my shoulders, down my legs, round my thighs and knees and calfs and ankles, under my crotch. And then my feet. He called off the measurements, and Mr Andrews wrote them down.
“If you’re making so many measurements, how have you got enough clothes to fit everyone so exactly?”
“Bright lad,” said Mr Barton. “But we knew that already, didn’t we? Thought your interview with Harcourt was priceless, son. Brilliant. Well, in fact we haven’t got the clothes ready. We adjust the sizes on the fly in those lorries out in the yard. We’ve got computer-controlled machines that do it from the measurements we’ve just taken. That’s why you’ll have to wait for a bit before they’re ready, okay? Right, that’s everything. All done in six minutes. That’s a hundred an hour, right? We’ll have everyone measured by lunchtime. Off you go, lad.”
“What, without any clothes?”
“Yes,” said Mr Andrews. “Sorry about that. But you won’t be alone for long.”
“What about my clothes? There are things in my pockets.”
“Leave them here,” said Mr Barton. “You won’t need the clothes any longer; we’ll recycle them. The things in your pockets you’ll get back later.”
I stared at them, and quite suddenly I felt next to tears. It was happening; I felt the weight of control fall onto me. It was almost physical, almost like a blow. If Mr Andrews had spoken kindly to me at that moment, I’d have fallen apart. Instead, Mr Barton gave me a light slap on my bum.
“Off you go!” he said. “Next!”
I emerged from the cubicle just at the moment that Neal did, and we stood there, our hands over our dicks, and a wave of giggling ran over the gym, with a few cheers and wolf-whistles. But the next set of victims were filing out; we resumed our seats on the floor as best we could. I put my book firmly over my dick; the situation was, well, stimulating.
“What do you bet the captain comes to see us now?” whispered Neal. “Just to—spy out the land...”
“Actually, I don’t think he would,” I said.
And I was right; he didn’t. The measuring went on and on, and the proportion of naked boys in the gym grew and grew. It was hard to concentrate on my book, and conversation lapsed. We were both bored and nervous.
By lunchtime almost everyone had been measured. They brought cold food to the gym for us to eat, and we queued up for it naked, our hunger overcoming any remaining shyness. Finally, although the measuring was still going on, we noticed activity at the other end of the gym, and after another wait that seemed almost endless, the first ten of us were called again. I put down my book and went forward.
However, instead of going one to a cubicle, we were lined up in front of one of them. My name was called as the first to go in. And there was a nurse, a balding man with piercing eyes in a white coat, Mr Dodgson the rugby coach, and Captain Hart.
I didn’t know if I was supposed to know him, so I just said “Hi” in a generalised way, with my hands over my dick again.
“It’s okay, Jack,” he said, and I noticed his face seemed tense. “I’m not ashamed to be a friend of yours, believe me.”
I liked that a lot.
“Please, let’s get on with it,” said the man in the white coat.
“Right, Jack, now try to be quiet and not alarm people,” said the captain. “What we’re going to do here is to put one of these into your shoulder.”
He held up a small cylinder, maybe half an inch long. I stared at it in horror.
“Shut up, for the love of Mike. It’s an implant. It’ll stick to the bone, just here, and once it’s in place you won’t notice it. Even if you press hard, you won’t be able to feel it, it’ll be right under the muscle. You’ll just feel a jab as it goes it—don’t squeal, for God’s sake. Here we go...”
Before I could object, or ask any questions, Mr Dodgson grabbed me firmly from the front round my neck and chest, trapping my arms against my body.
“Take it easy, Jack,” he growled into my ear. “Over in a moment.”
The white-coated man pressed something against my shoulder. There was a sharp click, and I felt an agonising stab; I was ready, however, and managed not to make a sound.
“Ow! That bloody hurts! Shit! Ow!” I muttered, as the nurse rubbed something on the spot.
The pain reduced rapidly, but I looked at Captain Hart in fury. I felt betrayed.
“An implant?” I whispered. “What the hell is that for? You said it was just clothes. Liar!”
“I’ll explain later,” he said. “Go to cubicle three.” I just stared at him, consumed in silent rage. “Go on!” he said angrily. “Don’t you dare to make a scene here!”
“Are you going to do that to Neal?”
“It’ll be worse for him if you make a scene. Go out there and smile, or he’ll get hurt. Go on! Do what has to be done!”
“Fuck you,” I said, and turned on my heel.
“Neal Marchmont!” the nurse called out.
I forced a smile.
“Piece of piss!” I said loudly, as Neal passed me by.
There was a titter over the queue.
“Down there, Jack, number three,” said a teacher standing nearby.
I went into the cubicle he pointed out; but to my surprise it was empty, apart from a full-length mirror, a chair and a table on which was a number of boxes. I waited for about a minute; then Captain Hart came in from the back.
“Not one word,” he snapped. “Shut up, and come with me.”
Still seething, I followed him, naked, out of the back of the cubicle, down a corridor and into one of the coach’s rooms.
“Thank you,” he said, before I could say a word.
“You blackmailed me by threatening to hurt my brother. You assault me and put some kind of microchip implant in me. And now you thank me?”
“Yes. Because you didn’t make a fuss, Neal wasn’t hurt, and there wasn’t a riot. Thank you.”
“Listen to me, Captain Fucking Ewan Hart. You threatened to hurt my brother. That makes you scum in my book, no better than a crazy. You made out that you were my friend, and then betrayed me. You lied to us—you said this was just some clothes, then you stuck that electronic thing into us. You tricked and deceived me—twice now, once last week, once today. My uncle was right about you, I’m just a throw-away to you, someone you use to manipulate other people. You pretend to like me, but all you really want is to use me to control the others. Well, you can stuff your interview, and you can find yourself another fucking poster boy, Dr Goebbels. Just give me my Standard Sodding Clothes and let me out of here.”
“No. Not till you listen to me.”
“Fuck off, and die.”
“No clothes till you listen to me. I mean it. I’ll leave you here overnight if I have to.”
I seethed and ground my teeth.
“Once again I have no choice. You’re an expert at manipulating people, aren’t you? Okay. Talk.”
He sighed and looked at me seriously.
“Thank you. You called me Dr Goebbels. Presumably you’ve guessed that I have some kind of propaganda function, and you’re right. In fact, I’m a member of the Central Council, although this hasn’t been announced. I’m responsible for propaganda, or Public Education as they call it. As you know, we’ve been running a campaign to get people used to the idea of Standard Clothing for kids, and it’s gone well.”
“Yeah. You had me fooled into helping, anyhow.”
“You were part of it. I don’t apologise. Chedley High is the first school where Standard Clothing has been issued—largely because you are here, so that you can go on TV and say it’s okay. Unfortunately, someone else thought that this would be a good place to try out the implant scheme. It was dreamed up by some guys in Security and the Children’s Department, and it has been considered by the Council. So far we haven’t approved it. But yesterday evening, those guys managed to squeeze it through a subcommittee as a ‘pilot project’.” He swept his hand through his hair. “I may be a minister, but that doesn’t make me all-powerful. I found out about it this morning, when we arrived at the school.”
“But what’s it for?”
“Each of your approved garments will contain a special active thread. The implant can tell if you wear anything else, and if you do, you feel a little prick in your shoulder. It doesn’t hurt, exactly; it just reminds you. And if you don’t take it off after thirty seconds, it tells a central computer, which tells the authorities.”
I stared at him.
“Relentless control,” I said. “We were warned. But Margrave and you—you managed to persuade me that it wasn’t too bad. It’s just clothes, you said, but it’s a lie. The Government lied to me, because it isn’t just clothes. We’re all going to be chipped, like criminals. Or animals.”
I turned away from him.
“And once again, you made me help. You used me to make the others comply. Even my own brother, by threatening to hurt him.”
“I wasn’t threatening to hurt him. I was pointing out a fact, Jack. If you’d made a fuss and the kids had objected, he would probably have been hurt. Because if the kids had resisted, the army would have come in, and the implants would have been inserted by force.”
“I’m not,” he said. “Once you involve Security, that’s what happens. This is, at the moment, a military régime, and it reacts to threats by military means. Because you restrained yourself, that didn’t happen. I watched Neal receive his implant, and he was quite happy, and the other kids are being processed with no problems.”
I was silent for a while.
“You know, for the last two weeks I’ve starting to think that this would be different,” I said. “But it isn’t, is it? It’s just another military dictatorship police state. Actually, it’s worse than ever before, because it’s high-tech now, isn’t it? I suppose the implants will be used to check out where we are and who we’re talking to and what we’re doing. Remember Orwell? ‘A boot grinding a human face, for ever.’ And you had me helping you. My face, my words, persuading everyone to cooperate.”
“You’re quite wrong. That’s just a grotesque fantasy. The technology can’t be used for those things. It only supports the clothes control. And the implants are timed: on your twentieth birthday they stop functioning. Don’t make it worse than it is, Jack, that doesn’t help at all.”
“Why should I believe you? How do I know this wasn’t your plan all along?”
“Because I’m not opposed to the implants in principle. They may not be a good idea in practice, for various reasons. I certainly didn’t want to do them now, because people need to be prepared for things like that. But the guys who brought this in now, without any warning, they don’t understand things like that. They just thought it was a nice technical idea, and this was a good opportunity to test it. If I were deceiving you, would I have said that? If I were deceiving you I’d tell you I’d opposed it and it was a terrible imposition and so on, but I don’t. I think it’ll be okay when you’re used to the idea, but of course it’s a shock to start with.”
“How can the implants be a good idea?”
“I support the idea of control. Have I ever said I didn’t? Controlling kids is how we are going to build a sane society. And it is not cruel; control is what kids need. I really believe that, Jack, and the implants just mean tighter control, that’s all. You can only wear the clothes we want. That’s how it will be. And you—you, Jack, specifically you—will learn to relax into our control, and accept it, and find freedom in it.”
“You hurt just now, Jack. I understand why, and if it’s any use, I’m sorry, deeply sorry. I won’t pursue this any further now, it would do no good. Go back to cubicle three and get your clothes, and go home with Neal. Corporal Roberts is waiting by the gate. Can I come round later? Please—Jack, please—I’m—I’m begging you.”
He seemed to be on the edge of tears. Or maybe he was a good actor, who knew? But I still found him impossible to resist.
“You know I can’t say no,” I whispered, and walked out of the room.
I could tell cubicle three, because its curtain was still open. There was still nobody there, so I closed the curtain and waited, sitting on the only chair, still naked. I still felt betrayed, betrayed by the Government and by a man I had been beginning to think of as a friend, and more than a friend.
I was unaware that I was crying until the back curtain opened, and Mr Andrews and Mr Barton came in.
“Hello Jack—hey. Captain Hart told me you’d had a rough time. C’mon.” Mr Andrews handed me a handkerchief. “Want to tell me about it?”
“What did Captain Hart say?”
“Nothing, just that you weren’t a happy bunny. Was he—was he unkind to you, Jack?”
“No, nothing like that.” I tried a smile. “Just—well, you’d better ask him, okay?”
“Okay. Does the implant hurt?”
“No. Not the way you mean, anyhow,” I couldn’t help adding.
“Ah. I see. Well look, Jack, I can’t help you with that, but I think you should talk about it some more with him. I can’t believe he’d hurt you on purpose, and a gentleman should know when to accept an apology gracefully. Think about it.”
He gave me a long look.
“Okay, let’s get you kitted up. This is quite fun, Jack, so give me my hanky back and try to get into it, okay?”
I smiled at him. It wasn’t his fault, and he was being as nice as he could. And I did want to know what the clothes were like.
“Here we are,” said Mr Barton, going through the boxes. “Marchmont, Jack. That’s you, right?”
“Okay. Well, to start with, there’s these.”
He spread them out on the table: eight pairs of trunks made of some slightly shiny material, and in a variety of colours and patterns, some of them hard and rectangular, others swirling and complex.
“Try one on.”
I picked a bright red pair, and slid them on. They fitted like a glove, snug and tight; they covered the whole of my arse cheeks and went deep down into the crack, and held my dick and balls firmly. They were slick to the touch and immediately sensuous to wear. They were not at all what I had expected.
“You can see there’s a sort of fly down the front, it’s held with velcro. Try it.”
I picked at with my fingers, and it opened—I found the opening went all the way down and back, between my legs and up my crack.
“At a pinch you can use the toilet without taking them off,” said Mr Barton. “You can even shit that way.”
“After that, there are these. We call them lifesuits...”
He unfolded them over the table. Each was a single garment, including legs and arms, and I could see they reached to the wrists and ankles, and up to the neck.
“I chose colours for you,” said Mr Andrews. “Next time round you can choose yourself.”
There were three; one fairly serious one in differing shades of blue, another in a fantastic swirling pattern of reds, golds and oranges, and a third which was gold all over. I just goggled at them. They were completely wild; I’d never worn—scarcely ever seen—anything so gorgeous in my life.
“Pick one for now,” said Mr Andrews, smiling at my astonishment.
“I—I get all three?”
“Well, yes. You need to wash them, you know. Go on, pick one.”
I picked the blue one, and Mr Andrews picked it up.
“Okay, there’s an opening in the back—look, it goes right round under the crotch, round to the front, like the trunks do. You have to sort of climb into it...”
I sat on the edge of the chair, and for the first time eased myself into a lifesuit, something I was going to do every day for the next six years. My legs slipped fairly easily into the leg part; they have a slippery lining which makes this easy, unless you’re sweating too much. The last three inches are cuff, and grip onto your ankles quite firmly. Then you do the arms, with their cuffs as well, and as you do this the front of it folds itself round your body; finally, you sort of roll your shoulders back, and it shifts into place. It’s completely tight, with no slack at all anywhere on your body; like the trunks, it goes deep into your crack and outlines the arse cheeks separately. There’s a buckle at the back of the neck, and you do that up. The opening down the back you can get someone else to press shut—it’s velcro again—or at a pinch you can rub against a doorframe or something like that.
Second nature after a few times; but this first time, it was wild and outlandish. And when it was complete, and I stood up, I almost buckled over from the sheer sensuousness, the erotic charge of the way it gripped my body, and caressed me as I moved. I was instantly hard.
Mr Andrews was ready, and caught me.
“My God! That’s... that’s not easy to... Oh God!”
Both of them laughed at me.
“You get used to it!”
“Okay, now there’s these. Sit here to try them on.”
This time it was a plain pair of socks. I had to pull the ankle cuffs out a bit to get them on, and it was rather clumsy.
“Maybe it’s easier to put the socks on first,” I said.
“That’s a good idea. Okay, and now these...”
They were boots in black leather. The part which went up over the ankles was quite loose and soft, but the foot part was serious, with firm soles. They could do a good days’s work, you thought; they were quite heavy.
“Or you can wear one of these,” said Mr Andrews.
He held up a pair of trainer-like shoes in bright red, and a pair of Indian-style sandals. I decided on the boots for now, and pulled them on.
“The other things you can wear are these.”
“No, not really. They’re called ‘tunics’. You can’t put one on now, because you’re wearing your lifesuit, but they go from your shoulders down to just below your crotch. This sash goes round your waist. You can wear trunks with them if you like. You may find them good to wear in summer, or round the house in the evenings when you’re fed up with the lifesuit, like a dressing gown.”
Once again there were three of them; but this time, each was a plain colour: white, light blue and pale yellow.
“The lifesuit doesn’t have pockets. You’re allowed to wear this belt, you can see it has several pouches on it to put things in. I’ve put the things you had in your pockets in this one, see?”
I tightened the belt round my waist; it was of black leather, easily two inches wide.
“Have a look,” said Mr Andrews, turning me to the mirror.
I looked. And my world turned, because I was looking at an exotic and fascinating creature, an amazement. It was my fantasy, my erotic daydream, my wildest and most fantastic ambition. It was beautiful. It was desirable beyond imagination. And it was me.
I couldn’t speak.
“He likes it,” said Mr Barton.
“I guess so,” said Mr Andrews. “Jack?”
“Er—yeah. Er, sorry.”
“There’s also this cloak which you wear over the lifesuit if it’s cold. Try it.”
The cloak was of dark green cloth, lined with dark red, and fell to ankle level all round. There was a clasp in a celtic design at the neck. It made me look windswept and mysterious; I loved it.
“There are one or two rules, you’d better remember them because the implant will enforce them. Are you listening?”
“You can wear the lifesuit and trunks. Or you can wear the trunks alone. Or you can wear the tunic, with or without trunks. Or you can wear nothing. Or you can wear any of those with the cloak. Those are your options. Do you understand? Tell me the options.”
It was obvious, of course.
“Nothing. Or trunks. Or tunic. Or lifesuit plus trunks. Or tunic plus trunks. Or any of those plus cloak.”
“That’s it. Those are your only options, ever. The only exception is when you’re in hospital. Not even for a moment can you wear anything else, or your implant will complain. No other clothes. No jewelry or pendants or hats. Do you understand?”
“I understand okay.”
“Okay, now everyone else is going to have a lecture about all this, and care of the clothes and so on, but I’ve been instructed to send you and Neal home. Your escort is waiting at the gate. Are we okay?”
“Sure. And thanks.”
“Remember what I said about accepting apologies, Jack. Forgiving people is hard. It’s also a very grown-up thing to do, a very beautiful thing to do. Okay?”
I was on the point of weeping again.