Flogging a Dead Horse
I was glad for the lunch to be light, because our afternoon saw something called “further physical evaluation”. It was basically extensive circuit training followed by a run along the camp’s inner perimeter. I am quite sporty, always have been, so the whole affair wasn’t too big a problem for me. Nevertheless, they sweat us nicely at the different exercises.
When we were finally herded for the run around the camp, we got another motivating speech from Miss Cuntling:
“The route alongside the inner fence is about two kilometres long, give or take. You may be worn out from the circular training and hence inclined to take it easy. I’d advise against it; your individual times will be taken, added up and compared to the ones of the other groups. That’s how we determine who will have toilet cleaning duty the following day.”
To keep us in line, three guards in sportswear ran with us, one of which was our group leader herself. A fourth would take our time at the finishing line. Whilst her two colleagues run near the head and the end of the field, respectively, Kandrin was commuting back and forth so nothing would escape her notice. Quite a tedious task, since the field was rapidly drawn out. Even I had to admire her stamina.
“6:53 – not bad, Seventeen,” the guard with the stopwatch shouted as I came in first – not that I had exhausted myself. Yet I’d wanted to be done with it, so I had settled for a reasonable speed which would make me look busy. Needless to say that the last ones to arrive received a far less hearty welcome. Amongst them, although not the very last, was Sixteen.
Kandrin strode over to the stopwatch bloke, wiping sweat off her face with her shirt and thus flashing some nice, smooth abs.
“Who was first?”
“Seventeen. Six fifty-something.”
She let her gaze wander across our party of seven until she found me.
“You’ll make a fine pony, Seventeen.”
Next to her, stopwatch-bloke smiled knowingly. At first I thought I had misheard and that she had used that debasing “ponewo” slur. But then I came to the belief that she had actually said “pony” – whether this was better or worse I knew not.
We had been allowed to shower before being called out in front of the barracks – all of us, all three groups. It was late in the afternoon, and a deep sun behind us threw heavy shadows against our backs. I became increasingly uneasy, for I didn’t consider it a coincident that we were facing the wooden structure I noticed earlier. Several persons of the staff were attending also; amongst them I saw all three group leaders and the doctor. Warden Navier had positioned her important self on the platform, with an obvious intention. Folks around here really had a proclivity for public speeches.
“The swift and stern execution is basic to the concept of penalisation. Punishment has to follow transgression closely. The longer the delay, the less effective the punishment. Participant 1105’s transgression I don’t need to address by its filthy name.”
I threw a quick glance towards the girl with the number 1105 on her shirt. Flanked by two guards, she was standing at the base of the platform and looking quite miserable. I could not but wonder by what filthy name her transgression went.
“Her punishment, however, was for once suspended until our latest participants arrived, so they, too, can take heed of this warning: Self-gratification will not be tolerated.”
They had nicked her for engaging manual override?! This got weirder by the minute. Navier stepped down and beckoned to the two guards. The moment they marched 1105 up onto the scaffold, I knew what the upright beam in its middle was: a whipping post. Zero-Five was ordered to lose her shirt and bra, and the girl complied with a stoic expression. She was made to raise her arms above her head, and the chain of her handcuffs was snapped to the post by means of a karabiner. She definitely was on the skinny side, and the stretched position made the outlines of her ribcage and shoulder blades protruding. Tip-toeing on the planks, her face towards the wood, she awaited her fate. I’m not an aficionada of such activities, even if many blokes wish it to be otherwise. But I had enough insight into related material during filthy-named occasions to know what would happen next. And like on cue one of the guards uncurled a dark single tail whip to which the term “menacing” was a benevolent understatement – and I was standing ten metres away from it.
What place was this?!
I had already witnessed first-hand how whip-happy some people around here were. But there still was a difference between some smacks of a riding crop and a public single-tailing! I clinched to the hope that this would turn out as some kind of fake to scare us newbies. The whip bearer limbered up, then shook out his instrument of discipline one last time and glanced down. I reckoned he received a “go” from Navier, because the next moment he flexed his muscles, brought his arm back in a wide arc and then granted the single tail full sway.
That wasn’t faked. The first stroke downright annihilated 1105’s so far stoic composure. The absence of any fat tissue to cushion the stroke made her feel the impact literally to the bone. I am not ashamed to tell that I involuntarily closed my eyes at her brief yet bloodcurdling yelp (which, of course, was utterly useless since it didn’t shut my hearing down). From all around me gasps of shock and disbelief got through to me.
“Discipline will be upheld” had been Navier’s more or less exact words. She hadn’t been kidding.
I opened my eyes just in time to behold the second stroke. Like its predecessor it elicited a pitiable screech. And like its predecessor, it left a long-stretched trace of angry red on Zero-Five’s back. To cope with the refreshed pain, the girl turned, twisted and bent this way and that within the limits of her tethering. The guard however wasn’t too patient with the prey of his whip and let the braided leather reach out again. To spice things up, he allowed the narrow, highly accelerated last twenty centimetres to wrap around the side of their victim’s body. The culprit’s whole body vibrated in resonance with the pain. Her full-throated scream didn’t die quickly.
That third one had been far too vicious. The cutting pain it had caused to explode within the girl’s flesh would not abate in time; every additional punishment would be piled upon it. Her sobbing and begging testified to this cruel fact, albeit in vain. The next stroke was delivered in a different angle, crossing the paths of the older ones with burning wrath. The mark from the first lash had already swollen to an elevated crimson welt, and was split open now. 1105 slumped down with a sound impossible to describe and hung only by her shackles for some moments. The whip bearer waited for her to regain her footing, obviously bound to get a true aim. The fifth and thankfully last one was again a nasty reach-around, this time with her other flank to be licked by the fiery tongue. The castigated girl had no air left to scream, yet her contortions were agonising to even look at.
1105 was still trembling and cramping in torment as the doctor stepped up to her. How good it was to know that we were cared for. I have got a very limited understanding of medicine, but even I saw that the girl wasn’t too hot. The spots where the tip of the single tail had landed were oozing blood, especially the ones at her flanks from the third and fifth stroke. Where the welts were crossing, Zero-Five’s hide was in an even worse state. The girl panted heavily every time she managed to stop whimpering.
Navier joint the doctor on the scaffold and listened to her brief report. Obviously satisfied, she faced us.
“I am convinced of this message to be clear enough, so I add only this: Since participant 1105’s correction has collided with our daily routine, there is no time left for supper. 1105 will be receiving your thanks for that once she is back with you.” The warden allowed that last statement to sink in for a moment, then finished with an authoritative “Group leaders…”
The group leaders came forth to their respective flocks. Kandrin sported a smirk as if she had been greatly entertained.
“Questions, comments, concerns?”
No questions, only dead silence. All of us were visibly shaken by the display, and not a few had tears in their eyes. I, speaking for myself, felt the serious urge to be sick. The shouting and bullying had been uncool enough, but this escalation to physical violence had shocked me to the core. We all had just received a welcome whipping in effigy, so much was for sure.
Before entering the barrack, I threw a last glance back. Zero-Five was still hooked to the post. With her knees weak and shaking, she clenched the karabiner lest the cuffs’ edges would press into her wrists. Would they leave her hanging the whole evening? The whole night?