Trial by Fire
There was no brazier with glowing coals. I made that up for dramatic effects, to grab the dear reader’s attention. Yet there’s no reason to feel cheated, for the branding iron was very present nonetheless. About half a metre long, with a heating coil near its business end, it waited for us on a small table next to the sawhorse – and it had brought its twin as well. An extension cord ran down the scaffold and into the nearest barrack to power both implements. In retrospective I almost wish they had gone for the classic hot poker out of a brazier – it would have made the experience more surreal, more romanticised even. The heroine, enduring the terrible kiss of the fiery iron. The heating coil version said “institutional torture” like nothing else. It was efficient in its design. Ready-made in a few minutes. By use of electricity it was comfortable to operate. One was able to deal out untold pain without breaking a sweat. The device’s exchangeable types for quick customisation carried the stench of mindless, unethical bureaucracy.
“What are they going to do to us?” somebody of my group whispered. Nobody answered her. A sepulchral silence had covered the whipping square. To both sides of the scaffold staff members had taken position. At the left I could see Miss Cuntling standing in the first line. I was looking for Kendrick, too, as Warden Navier climbed the platform. Despite my anxiety I was genuinely curious how she would be selling the upcoming events.
“As stated earlier this day, you, the members of Group 3 of the first year, have been found fit for the DACC programme. I congratulate you on this, for it is the first step on your way to becoming a productive element of our society. Participating in the programme may have been a choice not easily made for many of you, but it was the right choice nonetheless. Today you will receive your official badging to document this participation. Not only is it a proven way of building up group identity, it also ensures quick identification in situations you are not wearing your issued clothes in. This in turn will prevent mix-ups and ultimately offers security to both personnel and participants.”
She had lost me on that one. I certainly wouldn’t feel more secure with my number burnt into my skin. Badging – what a clever choice of words again. I looked over at Kandrin. Her face was unreadable as she stared up past her boss and into the non-existing embers. Apparently she was way down Memory Lane. Now I spotted Kendrick also. He was standing close to the steps leading up to the platform, listening devoutly. Next to him the lady doc appeared and looked a bit uncomfortable. She was wearing a medical uniform, but had her lab coat over her arm.
“The badging is non-permanent and will be imbedded into the upper layers of your skin where it will last five to six weeks. Medical supervision is provided during the process and its aftermaths.”
Upon Navier’s announcement the lady doc put her lab coat on and exchanged some inaudible words with the lead handler.
“I expect full cooperation from every participant, lest we be forced to deal with undue delays or disturbances. Mr Kendrick?”
The warden stepped down the scaffold and was replaced by Kendrick, the lady doc and two additional handlers.
“Participant 1301, come forth!”
Zero-One emerged from our formation and shuffled around the girls of the other groups. Of course it was mandatory for them to witness our branding. When she had climbed the scaffold, the lady doc performed a half-arsed check on her; heartbeat, blood pressure, pupils. The doctor gave a nod to Kendrick, and the lead handler marched her over to the sawhorse. Since this special occasion asked for both a special bondage and gaggage, he produced a thick rubber bit which he secured deeply between her teeth with a single strap. In his favour I had to say that he acted very quickly, trying to add as little as possible to the already tremendous mental stress. Kendrick made her bend over the padded cross beam, and the two other handlers tightened the various belts whilst he switched the heating coils on. Zero-One’s head was now below knee level, and her bum was thrust up nicely as the highest point. For the better or the worse, with all that blood rushing to her head she wouldn’t faint that quickly.
Once the redhead was properly secured Kendrick grabbed the waistbands of both her trousers and knickers and nonchalantly pulled them down to the top of her thighs. Seeing her whip-striped derrière presented like this was unintentionally comical. Until this moment I had carried the mental picture of us being completely naked when branded. But then again, 1105, the only inmate excused from this spectacle, hadn’t been fully naked during her whipping, either.
Kendrick thoroughly disinfected an area on Zero-Ones right buttock, a bit above the middle and towards the outside. The girl squealed upon feeling the disinfectant, in her agitated state mistaking its cooling effect for the real deal. Having donned sterile gloves the lead handler checked on the first branding iron. It was ready.
This time Zero-One screamed in earnest. The sawhorse was bolted to the scaffold, otherwise it would have tilted under her frantic struggles. Kendrick kept the targeted area still with one hand whilst applying the iron to her body with specific pressure. Fumes ascended as the girl’s flesh was roasted. After a couple of seconds he pulled his instrument away, leaving an angry “1301” burnt into the skin. Zero-One screams turned into a pitiful crying. Long strands of mucus dropped from her nose as she lifted her head.
“That’s barbaric!” Eleven exclaimed somewhere down the line, and louder than she might have attempted to.
Kandrin’s head snapped around. I could tell she was making a mental note although I doubted she was able to determine who exactly had piped up. On the platform Kendrick quickly prepared the other bum cheek, unperturbed by her gag-distorted pleas. It Zero-One had thought she’d overcome the badging, she was now asked to think again. The lead handler proceeded as before. And under more fumes and more screams the ponygirl was branded once more. Eventually the second iron was removed and Zero-One allowed to fall into a fit of exhausted sobs. The DACC logo was clearly visible on her left buttock, an ugly wound etched into healthy tissue.
They’d done it. They’d actually done it.
With this cruel act our Deepfall masters had performed a tremendous imposition of power, and had happily welcomed all connotations of livestock, slavery and mediæval torture on the way. The upcoming scarring, both bodily and emotionally, permanent or not, would serve well as a reminder of our status, as the ultimate mark of ownership. When the smell of burnt skin reached me, I knew it was for olfactory reasons the branding wasn’t taking place inside the barn. The stench was sickening. After this display of suffering it was hard to believe the scars to be gone in five or six weeks. My guts cramped even worse upon realising that I would need to be re-branded at least once during my stay.
A weeping and shaking Zero-One was released, and the lady doc examined her again. She finished with applying gel-like stuff to the burns. In the meantime the next one was called up. 1302, knowing what was waiting for her, refused to move until Miss Cuntling’s spark stick made her. Zero-Two looked as though she would be fainting any second, yet was deemed fit. As the lady doc nodded to Kendrick, the girl went almost hysterical, begged the doctor, then the lead handler in a failing voice. But to no avail. She, too, was bound and subjected to the iron.
Her screams, born both from pain and panic, were even more horrific than those of her predecessor.
One by one we were summoned, some dragged up kicking and screaming (buxom Zero-Eight), some kicking and cursing (angry young Ten). Come to think of it, I got the full panoply of Kübler-Ross stages, all wrapped up in one entertaining event.
The closer the numbers climbed up to my own, the more anxious I became. As Sixteen was asked to join the club, I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. She was already snivelling, but needed no other means of coercion than Miss Cuntling’s gaze. The platform was still in full sunlight, emphasising her annoying hair colour. During the last days I had come to associate bleach-blond hair with the programme’s multi-levelled baseness. I was wrongfully incarcerated, whereas she deserved ponyshment for being stuck-up, slutty and generally irritating. Which made it all the more unfair that I was in the same hellhole as her. Yet I did not draw any pleasure from her screams, and not only because I knew who was up next.
After nearly two hours of cries, pleads and the smell of burnt skin, it was finally my turn. I was light-headed, on the verge of being sick and very, very scared. With wobbly knees and eyes lowered I followed the sinister extension cord to the scaffold. After having pulled through puberty without collecting any larger tattoos or major piercings I was now to be retrofitted with some rather extreme body art. I was glad Kendrick would do it. Kandrin might “accidently” apply the electric branding iron for too long, giving me something to remember her by.
On the platform I couldn’t stop trembling, and didn’t even care to hide it. I glanced down in the lines of girls, searching for something, anything in their faces to encourage me. Ten just looked royally pissed. Fifteen was all tears. Eleven met my glance and gave a weak smile.
“C’mon, we haven’t got all day,” the lady doc murmured.
I stood under the strong impression she wanted to be done with sending us to the branding iron. I wasn’t playing for time, though – what good would it do me?
Before the medical check really started it was over, and I found the cross beam pressing against my abdomen. The leather padding was hot and sticky from my predecessors. Kendrick approached with the bit gag.
“Open up, sweetie.”
I obeyed. Being gagged would be one of the less debasing things to be done to me on this platform today. And it was better than biting my tongue off. The rubber had been wiped with disinfectant after each use, just like it was common practice with our pony bits. The taste was different nonetheless. I had only been gagged with steel so far, never with rubber (I’m not counting the rubber covers protecting the teeth). Steel gags are painful. The bits hurt like hell, and so had the lady doc’s Jennings gag used on me during my initial examination. The rubber bit gag was harmless in comparison, only triggering drooling and a slowly increasing ache in the joints. Within the next moments, it would become my best friend.
One of the assisting handlers closed the restrains around my legs and ankles. I was still standing upright, though, and so I was granted a close look at the branding tools. The first one had a short transversal rail at its business end, long enough for four individual metal segments. Movable types for a truly hellish printing. Kendrick had changed the last two of them, so the iron was now sporting a mirrored 1317. The second brand was fixed, carrying the camp’s horse head crest. Both were already heated up. In his shadow I was able to make out just a hint of glow, otherwise easily swallowed by the sun light. Right then the realisation hit me: They were about to repeatedly press a red-hot iron on my skin! Witnessing it being done 2×16 times hadn’t been sufficient to make me fully grasp the gravity of the situation. I was to receive third degree burns!
The second handler made me bend over the beam. My belly came to rest on the broad, leather-padded wood as I rendered myself helpless and vulnerable. The belts for my wrists and arms were fastened, and finally the one to secure my torso. He tightened the last one with a hefty yank, making me gasp around my bit gag. Somebody pulled my pants down my spread legs as far as possible, only to repeat the action with my briefs. Kendrick, I reckoned – who now had a first-class view on my thrust-up arse. Of course he had seen it before, but never in such an obscene pose. I felt like meat. Even the last illusions of control had been taken from me. I couldn’t even see for myself what those bastards were about to do to me. Looking through between my own legs and the ones of the bondage horse, my head upside down, I was receiving very limited visual input of what was going on behind me.
The cool disinfectant caused me to flinch. The coolness went away, and the region on my right buttock became hotter and hotter. Then it became much hotter. I felt my skin being singed. I grounded my teeth into the rubber to prevent myself from screaming, but to no avail. As the pain seared into my flesh I provided a nice pathetic shriek. And the best part was: The branding iron hadn’t even touched me yet. When it did touch me, when the added sensation of glowing pressure allowed the heat to materialise into red-hot torture, I nearly bit through my gag. My jaw muscles cramped up, turning my simultaneous scream into a guttural roar. I could sense my skin sizzle. I felt it tighten to the point of splitting open. Blinding panic filled me as I instinctively tried to get away from the source of my suffering and found that I could not. The belts made me take whatever my tormentors chose to give to me.
Behind me Kendrick turned to the small table, and only then it was that I became aware of the branding iron already been taken away. The burnt part of my bum still felt like being in contact with the punishing metal. Only slowly the fierce sensation gave way to a deep, maddening throbbing.
Being branded had subjected me to the most intense pain I had ever experienced so far. Not absolute agony yet, but close to being utterly unbearable. People who have voluntarily undergone branding routinely describe the procedure as far less painful than expected. Brands for permanent body art being hotter or applied differently, thus destroying the nerve ends, may account for that. Plus, they have been in a completely different mind-set, high on the scene, deep in the zone or lost in sub-space.
Nothing of that was on my side. On the contrary: Amplified by the knowledge of the second brand coming up, my distress made me a highly responsive victim. The next application of the disinfectant alone made me squeal in terror. Unbelievable heat kissed my left buttock. I tensed, tried to buck, but the straps didn’t let me. I tried to howl, but the rubber stick gagged me. I tried to faint, but the position with my head lower than my heart prevented that. As a final surrender my heat-raped body fell into a short series of spasms.
And that was that: I was branded. An owned pony. Not just caught anymore. Owned, as in: your owner can do to you whatever they want.
I stayed bent over the horse, sobbing, even after the belts had been loosened. Kendrick hauled me up.
“C’mon. You’ve survived it.”
My mind was foggy. I couldn’t believe it was over. I couldn’t believe what they just had done to me. The lady doc looked me over, applied the cooling gel to my new insignia and told me to pull up my knickers and trousers myself. Which turned out to be an ordeal in itself.
Although I just wanted to crawl into a hole, die and seek myself another hole to crawl into in the afterlife, I was ushered back in line. Many of the Oners and Twoers were due for a re-branding. I still do not know how I managed to not lose it that day.
We had supper standing up. I ate very little and was yelled at by Tweedledee. When I showed scarce reaction to his tirades, he pushed me and yelled at me even louder. I didn’t care.
They granted us a bit of recreation afterwards. No barracks duty. After supper we were free to cry ourselves to sleep. I had somewhat composed myself. Fifteen and Sixteen, for instant, were both nervous wrecks.
“I’m disfigured for life!” wailed the fake blonde, rushing up and down the aisle like an Easter bunny.
I was still in the washroom at the back of the barrack, trying to get a glimpse of my own bum in the mirror. The “badges” sported a dirty red, and the dragging pain was bound to drive me nuts tonight.
“They aren’t permanent,” Ten ensured from under her blanket, not to put Sixteen’s mind at peace, but to stop her whining. “Just make sure not to cover them too tightly. If they heal with enough air, there won’t be deep scarring.”
With a slight trace of annoyance Ten got on her knees in her bunk, revealing her bare torso.
“Do any of my body mods make me appear unsure about a thing like that?”
Sixteen pulled a sour face. Obviously the two had divergent ideas of physical enhancement. Ten was more the type for putting surgical steel in her tits rather than silicone. At least her remark had calmed our special snowflake down to a tolerable level. Speaking of tolerable levels: To provide a minimum of aftercare some of the gel-stuff had been handed out to us. All of us had used it, but its numbing effect was quite limited. I groaned as I climbed my own bunk.
“It’s all so unfair.”
That one came from Fifteen, and her statement was almost touching in its naïvety.
Ten pulled her blanket back up, careful to make it rest on her side.
“Write a letter to Amnesty fuckin’ International. Now shut it and let me enjoy the healing process.”
That night nobody slept on their backs.