He knew why Daphne was so busy. Hers was the first class to graduate since the phone system disasters of '12. The Government had been riding the new generation of computer geniuses hard, offering them unlimited loans if only they'd build the talent and discipline to keep the Net in one piece. After Daphne passed this last set of exams, she'd be bound to a civil service job for the next three years. How good a job depended on her GPA. Daphne was brilliant, first in her class, and likely to graduate with all honors.
Sometimes Terry wished she still had the time to love him.
At length Daphne logged out. She tipped her chair back against the wall and tapped her fingers against her knee. Her face was pale and her blonde hair greenish in the fluorescent light.
"I aced Queue Theory," she said. "One more exam to go."
"That's good. I lost a game of metachess."
She chewed the end of a stylus idly.
"I don't know who to, either. They left no ID."
Terry was watching Daphne. It could still be her. She had been known to lie.
"You ate?" he asked.
"Yeah. Ordered a pizza."
Terry finished dinner and dumped the plate down the recycle bin.
"They're bringing in the big guns on the Gateway security problem," he offered. When she was silent, he continued hopefully. "They hired lots of outside consultants and are turning the whole Authority upside-down. All staff have been asked to submit to scan. My turn is tomorrow morning."
She nodded as if to be polite.
And then, since words were useless, Terry went and knelt and pressed his head against her knee. She was quite still for a long time. He stole a glance upward at her face, and wasn't sure what bothered him more, his sexual hunger or her indifference.
At last Daphne pushed him away and walked to the closet. Standing, she was taller than he, even in bare feet. Terry scarcely drew a breath as she dropped a handful of stuff on the couch.
"Come here and take your shirt off."
Terry obeyed. Daphne clasped his wrists in a pair of handcuffs, then, pulling Terry down to his knees, padlocked them to the eye-bolt set in the bottom of the couch. Daphne dropped down to sit in front of him, her denim-clad legs spread wide, and pressed something unyielding against his lips. It was the rubber handle of her whip.
"Eat this," she ordered.
Terry opened his mouth. Instantly Daphne shoved the whip handle against the back of his throat. He tilted his head and swallowed, feeling the tears drip down his face. He was never really sure what she got out of it, aside from the obvious dominance kick. Maybe that was enough. His own jeans were becoming unbearably tight.
Daphne fucked his mouth a few more times, then pulled the whip out, wiping the handle on Terry's shirt. Then she stood up.
Terry rested his head against the edge of the couch. No matter how much he begged to be beaten with her three-tailed whip, the moment of terror before it struck was almost too much to bear. After she began, the rising adrenaline rush would wipe out his fear. Now he chewed his lips to keep from asking for mercy. One word and she'd release him, lose interest, and return to her console. And that wasn't what he really wanted.
The first stroke of the whip bit into his back with the lazy deliberation of a cat at a scratching post. Terry cringed and closed his teeth on the couch. He could smell the oiled length of the whip as it cut the air, then his flesh. Blow followed blow, regular as clockwork. Daphne wasn't strong, but her whip was nasty artillery. The fire in Terry's skin consumed doubt and confusion like some live and hungry thing. Terry was getting hard, faster than the stoned feeling was emptying the thoughts out of his brain.
Then Daphne stopped. Something bounced on the cushion before his face. It was the key to the cuffs. Behind Terry a door shut, the door to her bedroom, with her on one side and him on the other.
Terry knelt there, panting, not quite believing. He snagged the keys with his teeth, brought them down to his fingers, and started working at the locks. When he had freed his hands, he didn't stop to take his jeans off, but pressed his erection against the edge of the couch. He came so hard that his foot cramped and he had to step on it before the pain went away. It wasn't the kind of pain he wanted.
Dropping his clothes in the corner of his tiny room, Terry went to the bathroom to check his back. He was bleeding in a couple of places, with an impressive set of welts. Terry showered briefly and then tried, with partial success, to spread disinfectant over his back.
Terry's room was actually a closet with a bed. It had no windows. Most summer days he slept on the couch to catch the breath of Daphne's air conditioner as it leaked under her door. Once he used to sleep in bed with her.
Terry lay down on his stomach and stared out the window. The pollution made the sunsets beautiful, deep and red. It almost made up for air too hot and harsh to breathe.
Did he really think himself lucky for having Daphne? She did let him stay in her place, a boon in the midst of a severe housing shortage. And Terry couldn't exactly afford to be picky. Femme dominants were in short supply, and men like him too numerous to count. Daphne used to love him. After that she had hurt him as a favor. Lately she did it out of simple cruelty. He considered, as he did every night, dumping her for someone vanilla, someone less brilliant and preoccupied and more personable, who talked to him once in a while.
It was just Terry's misfortune to turn on to intelligence harder than to anything else except, maybe, a touch of leather.