The Innocent's Progress and Other Stories [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Peter Tupper
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Science Fiction
eBook Description: In a steampunk society where sex is ritualized and marriage is sacred, the slightest misstep can bring your world tumbling down. In this collection, Peter Tupper explores the many facets of a time that never was, and a society that is all too familiar. Rich in eroticism, and immersive in its detail, The Innocent's Progress and Other Stories is a sterling example of what steampunk can be. In an unnamed place, in a time that never was, sex is elevated as high as ritual, and can be had for the price of a theater ticket. In The Innocent's Progress and Other Stories, Peter Tupper explores the many facets of a complicated, sensual, and, in many ways, rigidly conservative society. Here, we are given passes to a theater of fantasies; we are allowed into the labyrinthine world of steam-powered workhouses; and we are given glimpses into the minds and mettle of the kind of people who survive in such a world.
eBook Publisher: Circlet Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2010
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Steampunk Scholar took a look at Peter Tupper's The Innocent's Progress
Tupper's characters are a joy to read, and his writing style is wonderfully inviting."
The Innocent's Progress
Adapted from A Life in the Commediaby Mr. Ricar, Donal sept, Stefan clan
After ten hours of incompetent performances, temper tantrums, crying fits, vomiting, and one or two death threats, the other two judges were ready to end the auditions, but Ricar felt they were obliged to see one more. He called, "Next, please!"
The door to backstage, where dozens still waited for their chance, opened. A woman walked out onto the stage, her steps echoing in the nearly empty theater until she stopped precisely on the chalk mark and faced the three judges in their armchairs.
Right away, Ricar could see a problem. She wore a simple blue and white dress, the costume of the Innocent, but it couldn't conceal her powerful shoulders and thighs, or the fact she was taller than most men. The effect was almost comical.
Chel, the choreographer and designer, gave a tiny snort of suppressed laughter at the sight, while Davis, the host and manager, just shook his head wearily.
Ricar professionally took stock of her appearance, the dress notwithstanding: perhaps thirty, good face, shapely body even without a tight-laced corset, legs a bit short but the right costuming could work around that. Too big for a Servant or Pet, too old for a Novice. She might make a good Beast or Fatale--with some exercise and training, perhaps even the Virago? "Your name, miss?" he said.
"Delyn, Alwyx sept, Yelwin clan," she said proudly. Her voice was clear and projected well, though Ricar could tell she spoke in a higher register than was natural for her.
"Your experience?" Davis asked, his fountain pen poised over his notebook.
"Two years in Diamond Dog Company, one in Silken Cord, and one in the House of the Silver Fetter."
Surprisingly little experience for someone her age, but respectable, Ricar thought.
"And what will you do for us today, Miss Alwyx?" Chel asked, concealing her smile beneath her lace-gloved hand.
Ricar sighed. "What else can you do?"
"Well, Servant and Harlot, of course. Also Beast and Pedant."
"Can you do the Fatale?" Chel asked.
"It's not my strength." One of her hands reached for her dress buttons, then stopped.
Ricar rose from his seat and crossed the stage to the new hopeful. Up close, he could see that even in her demure white shoes, sans heel, Miss Alwyx was almost as tall as he was, and probably heavier. "Let me see you do the Virago."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I never learned to do the Virago. Is there something else?"
That wasn't a good sign, he thought; he believed versatility was essential to a player. Still, he was curious to see what this woman could do.
"Very well. Let me see your Innocent." He fixed her with a stare. "Come here," he said in the grave tones of the Patron, one finger pointed before him.
She stepped forward hesitantly, hands clasped before her, face downcast but eyes upturned, showing a mixture of apprehension and hope.
"You live in my house now, child," he said, reaching out for her cheek in a way that could lead to a caress or a slap. "I expect proper respect from my charges."
Miss Alwyx crossed her hands at her waist and turned away, but tilted her head to one side so that her throat was bared to him, and to the audience. "I know, sir. Please forgive me if I seem ungrateful." Her voice quivered with anguish, her eyes showed despair. It was quite good, certainly better than most of the other auditions he had seen that day.
"Thank you, miss." Ricar walked away from Miss Alwyx and faced his colleagues. "Well?"
"Too big, too old," Chel said softly. "Let us break her heart and call it a day."
"We could use another Servant or Beast," Davis said neutrally.
It was down to him, then. Ricar turned back to Miss Alwyx, who waited, fidgeting with one of the buttons on her dress. "Miss Alwyx, we'd like you to join the House of the Razor Lotus."
"Aah!" Miss Alwyx sprang forward, her hands clasped in front of her. "Aah! Oh thank you thank you thank you!" She wrapped her arms around Ricar, bouncing so hard that she lifted him off the ground. Her body was massive compared to Ricar's slim frame, and for a moment he thought of being alone with her, sitting on her lap. "Oh, that's wonderful, you're wonderful, thank you so much, you won't regret this!" She let go of him, started to leave the room, rushed back to grab her handbag and ran out again. "Oh, I'm so happy, this is the best thing that's ever happened to me!" She shoved open the door that led backstage and shouted, "Hey, everybody, they said yes! Isn't that amazing?"
* * * *
This was the moment, after weeks of rehearsals and costume design and set building. Backstage, Ricar could hear the orchestra tuning up, the murmur of the audience in the pit and the boxes and the galleries, Davis doing his warm-up patter. Around him, the players adjusted costumes, stretched, did vocal warm-ups that sounded like the calls of exotic birds. After more than twenty years in the Commediaopening night still gave him a thrill.
Ricar leaned over to look around Chel's elaborate headdress and check on Miss Alwyx. She stood with the other Harlots, ready to go on stage for the second scene. Her costume looked good on her, exposing her powerful arms, and the boots made her taller than some of the other male players. She silently mouthed her lines and half-danced her steps, but her gaze was elsewhere, on Miss Dyr.
Miss Dyr stood before the makeup mirror, surrounded by dressers and stylists, making sure the simple blue and white dress of the Innocent hung just right and her face looked suitably un-made-up, heightening her large, liquid brown eyes, plump cheeks, and shy, slightly embarrassed smile. It took a lot of art to look that artless, as the old saying went.
Ricar looked back at Miss Alwyx, wishing she'd concentrate on her role. She'd get to see Miss Dyr's performance soon enough.
Miss Alwyx turned around and caught him watching her. Ricar gave her an encouraging nod and flashed her the "Everything's good" hand sign. She smiled and even blushed, shyly dropping her eyes, a maneuver worthy of the Innocent, despite her Harlot role.
A shy, demure Harlot, Ricar thought. Perhaps there's someone who will be moved by that.
"Pay attention," murmured Chel, in her Matron's costume to match his Patron's.
"I always pay attention," he told her coolly. Chel should know he was too experienced (or perhaps just too jaded) to be distracted by some eager young player.
On stage, Davis announced, "For your edification and pleasure, the House of the Razor Lotus gives you... The Innocent's Progress
Davis bowed off stage as the audience applauded. The curtain rose, the music began and Miss Dyr made her entrance. First, she lifted the Doll out of her tiny box and danced sweetly with her, pretending to kiss the ever-smiling face. Next, the two mischievous Pets entered and stole the Doll away, making the Innocent chase them around the stage. Giving up, the Innocent attempted to herd the trio of Beasts. The Beasts on all fours strained on their leashes, driven by their animal drives of lust and dominance. The Innocent struggled in vain to keep the Beasts in check, and they quickly tangled her up in their reins.
Backstage, Ricar watched carefully, counting the timing under his breath. He, Chel, and Davis chose The Innocent's Progressa classic written by the Bawd herself centuries ago, to showcase the new talent while still giving the audience a lot of the star attractions, particularly Miss Dyr.
Miss Alwyx was doing well, speaking with conviction and projecting. He expected her to be strong, but she was surprisingly agile too, enough to make some impressive moves. She yanked the Innocent off the ground by her bodice, seemingly with one hand (helped by Miss Dyr's active cooperation), then spun her around, the dress twirling out, then held her with one strong arm around her waist while she struggled and protested and wept.
Not for the first time, Ricar noted that the most subtle and difficult aspects of the performance went unnoticed by the audience, while the crude, simple things like Miss Dyr's ability to cry on cue got the applause.
A passing Prince provided the Innocent's rescue, fighting off the Rakes and Harlots with a bit of swordplay. He helped her to her feet and escorted her offstage to his manor. The Innocent thanked him profusely, not noticing that the Prince passed coins to the Rakes.
Two flat scenes slid together, indicating the inside of the manor. Porters quickly wheeled in a bed and a washbasin. The Prince brought in the Innocent and left her in the care of a pair of Servants, who took exceptional liberties as they cleaned her up. The Prince returned, saving her for the moment, but he had his own demands of her.
Enter Ricar and Chel as the Patron and the Matron. While the Patron sent his son away, the Matron comforted the Innocent. Her gentle touches soon turned sensual, then cruel as she forced the Innocent to bare herself to the Patron. She became a pawn in the power struggles of the older couple, a conduit for their mutual contempt and jealousy.
As she had done hundreds of times before, the Innocent sobbed, wept, and proclaimed her purity and chastity to the merciless, uncaring world, as indignity after cruelty was heaped upon her. Every rescue swiftly turned into another torment.
The Patron and Matron slept, exhausted after debauching the Innocent. Clutching the tattered remnants of her dress around her, the Innocent stole the Patron's key and crept away.
Another backdrop came down, a forest at night. A storm came, an illusion created by porters with fans, flickering house lights, and clever drum work in the orchestra pit. The Innocent, winds plucking at her tousled hair and tattered clothes, raised her arms to the uncaring heavens and wept, begging for, if not justice, then mercy. The winds roared, the lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and at last, a (gilt paper) bolt of lightning reached down from the sky and struck her. The moment of flashing light and rolling thunder played out as the Innocent stood transfixed by the most potent expression of Nature's energy. Then the storm ended, and she fell to the ground, annihilated.
* * * *
"Assignations, players," said Davis, holding high a thick bundle of cards. Everyone backstage crowded around as the manager handed them out. Ricar hung back, letting the new talent have their moments of glory.
Miss Dyr, freshly back from the dead, flipped through the dozen or so cards with her name, then frowned. "Where's the one from the senator? I saw him in the private boxes. He's always here."
Davis checked the last of the cards. "It appears there wasn't one."
Something came over Miss Dyr then, Ricar noticed. Not the hurt of a jilted lover, nor the tantrum of a child denied a promised sweet. This was something different. Those big brown eyes closed to slits. Miss Dyr threw the remaining cards of lesser admirers at Davis and stalked away. By chance, Miss Alwyx stood at the door leading to the dressing rooms, blocking Miss Dyr's way: a sheepdog confronted by a hissing cat. Even as Miss Alwyx began to move out of the way, the tiny woman spat, "Well?" Miss Alwyx, who was a head taller and half again as heavy, shrank back as Miss Dyr exited.
This was a problem, Ricar knew. Players had the right to refuse any assignation, but that meant the House received no assignation fee. Too many refusals hurt the company, and Miss Dyr's senator was a significant source of revenue.
As he helped Davis pick up the scattered cards, Ricar said, "I'll handle this."
"You'd better," said Davis, accepting the cards. "We don't need an arrogant Innocent. Neither does the senator, it seems."
"It's probably nothing, some business that pulled the senator away. He'll be back later."
"Regardless, start thinking about a replacement. In the meantime..." Davis handed him a card. "You're wanted in room eight." He turned away and left the room.
A replacement? There hadn't been anybody half as good as Miss Dyr in the last round of auditions. Ricar had trained an understudy, but he hadn't used her and hoped he'd never have to. Like it or not, Miss Dyr brought people in every night.
Backstage was nearly empty now, everyone off to assignations or to get undressed. There he found Miss Alwyx, sitting in front of the mirrors next to the abandoned piles of floral bouquets.
"Don't take Miss Dyr personally," Ricar said.
"I think I was off, Mister Donal. I didn't make her look good." Miss Alwyx picked up one of the jars of cold cream and a rag and started removing her makeup. "Maybe I'd make a better Servant."
Ricar thought she'd just look silly in a Servant's costume. "Your performance was fine. Don't worry about the other players. That's my job."
She smiled briefly, then said, "I didn't get any assignations."
He waved the air. "The punters need time to warm up to new players."
"I see," she said quietly.
"I have an assignation now, but remember, there's always tomorrow night."
She forced a smile he found endearing--almost the Innocent's smile.
As he walked up the stairs to the assignation rooms, he wondered what to do about Miss Dyr. Once, he could have used reason and a touch of flattery, but now she wouldn't listen.
The moment Ricar entered room eight, his client, a plump young woman waiting next to the bed, blurted out, "You're going to rape me!"
So much for nuance, Ricar thought. "Calm yourself, my child," he said, slipping back into the Patron role as he caressed her cheek. She was positively quivering; he could tell she had been anticipating this for a long time, rehearsing it in her mind, perhaps even sending letters about it to the domestic magazines. Was this a gift for her coming out party? A fling before her wedding?
"Stop fidgeting, girl," he said, putting a little more steel in his tone.
She did her best, her hands fairly still, but her feet kept shuffling.
Settling on the room's single chair with a proprietary manner, he asked, "Why is it necessary for you to report to me?"
She launched into a rambling speech appropriate to the scenario, the kind he had heard many times before, about how the other (imaginary) members of the household tormented her and blamed her for breaking the good dishes.
He felt the temptation to just go through the motions, learned through hundreds if not thousands of other assignations--say the words, make the moves. The client would probably not even notice if his performance was mechanical. No matter. For this moment, in this room, he was the Patron, and she was the Innocent, and he would do his best to live up to her expectations, and his.
Ricar held up one hand. "Enough." She stopped. "It is clear you think your position entitles you to special treatment. It does not, and it is my duty to impress this upon you."
Her eyes grew wide as he stood and moved the chair before her. He put the cushion over the back and reached out for her, but she eagerly threw herself into position.
There were several points on the specially modified chair where clients' hands could be tied, regardless of their height or arm length. He put four full loops of thick, soft rope around each of her wrists, then walked around behind her and raised the skirt of the Innocent's dress, exposing her white bloomers. The Rake or Brute would be quick and rough, but the Patron took his time as he tugged her underthings down, revealing a pale, white, rounded backside. Professionally, he noted a mole on her right thigh, something to be avoided later.
The rod and the cane were exactly as they should be, hanging on nails by the door. The assignation card said that this woman had little experience, so he chose the rod, which could be used lightly. It was an excellent instrument, cut from fresh birch twigs and handcrafted by the prop department that morning. He swung it a few times in full view of the client, building tension as it whooshed through the air.
"I do this for your own good, child," he said, walking around to stand to the left of her raised buttocks.