“And just where the hell have you two been all afternoon?” Robin exploded. Robin had been working hard on his presentation when he became aware that Rebecca was noticeably absent. He’d gone looking for her without success. Daniel hadn’t been able to shed much light other than saying that they’d left the Hall. Now Robin and Danny intercepted Rebecca and Alice in the doorway of their private entrance back into the Hall.
Rebecca looked at him sweetly “Fishing!”
“You’re about to catch something! Don’t get obstreperous with me Rebecca unless you want to try a few lines on your backside! I repeat where have you been all afternoon?”
“My Lord we were just visiting Julie. If you recall we were supposed to comfort Julie in Jennifer’s absence. We were merely following orders. My Lady could have told you of our whereabouts sir. We did ask permission.”
“You didn’t ask our permission!”
“Forgive me sir but we were told that you were very busy and we didn’t like to disturb you whilst at your labours.”
“I believe that we established this protocol yesterday ladies! However busy I might be then it is no excuse for you not to take your leave of me. I’m never too busy for a quick peck on the cheek and to be told where you are going! You girls gave us Hell for omitting those courtesies yesterday and now you’re turning round and doing the same thing! Is this petty retaliation?”
“No sir!” said Rebecca in sudden concern “I swear it sir!”
“Aye Alice!” Daniel piped up “Ah’ve bin left on me own all afternoon since Ah left Mr Coleman” Daniel was being somewhat economical with the truth here but he didn’t feel that it was the right time to bring up his embarrassing encounter with Lady Mathom just yet.
“Sorry Danny. I thought you was gonna be with ‘im all afternoon like!”
“Yer might ‘ave tekken t’ trouble to find out!”
“You both might have done!” pointed out Robin. “If you set precedents for acceptable behaviour Rebecca then you should live by them! Go and fetch the cane!”
Rebecca started in surprise but her protests died on her lips as she saw the determination in Robin’s face. She curtsied hurriedly “Yes My Lord!” and scuttled off to obey. Alice was pale but she didn’t dare speak. When Rebecca returned Robin and Daniel marched the pair of them into a ground floor parlour.
Robin pointed to a desk. “Be so good as to present yourself Rebecca. Bend over that desk!” Rebecca gulped but she bent low over the desk. “Alice would you raise her dress please!” Robin ordered.
“I said raise her dress Alice! We’re not going to expend useless energy dusting off the back of her summer dress are we?”
“Oh ‘ell!” Alice murmured but she obeyed, lifting the hem of Rebecca’s dress to expose the little cotton, patterned knickers beneath.
“And her knickers if you please Alice!”
“bl**dy ‘ell! Sorry about this Becky love!”
“All the way down to her knees if you please Alice!”
“Yes sir!” Alice slipped the elastic over Rebecca’s buttocks. It was the second time that she had done this today but it didn’t seem to be an appropriate moment to mention the fact.
Robin regarded the exposed cheeks with satisfaction “Very well two dozen strokes then Alice!” He held out the cane for Alice.
“I said two dozen strokes Alice. Good and hard if you please.”
“What me? Yer want me ter….”
“That is correct Alice. Since you girls have made a point of establishing parameters of behaviour then you can take equal responsibility for punishing any infringements of those parameters. Please be so good as to administer two dozen strokes to Rebecca’s bottom.”
“Oh flip!” Tremblingly Alice took the proffered cane.
“Make sure that the strokes are hard enough Alice. Any stroke that we consider to have been delivered without sufficient f***e we’ll expect you to repeat until it meets our satisfaction. Then the number of repeated strokes will be added to the tally when your turn comes!”
“Yes Alice as soon as you have delivered the requisite number of strokes to Miss Walpole here then you will be replacing her over the desk. Any pusillanimous strokes will earn extra ones for yourself so I’d do a good job of it if I was you!”
“Please proceed!” Alice looked tormented as she stepped up to Rebecca prone over the desk. Hesitantly she raised the cane. Rebecca took a deep breath and took a firm grip on the edge of the desk. For long second or two Alice could not bring herself to strike the target but Rebecca looked over her shoulder and nodded to her encouragingly. With a little gasp she brought the stiff rattan down across Rebecca’s bottom. “Nowhere near hard enough Alice!” Robin admonished. “You’ll have to do better than that! Please repeat that stroke! Danny would you keep a tally on the extra strokes that Alice will be receiving?”
“Aye that’s one then. Do it proper now Alice! T’ pair ov yer ‘ave got this comin’ ter yer!” Nearly weeping in spite of the fact that it wasn’t herself on the end of the cane Alice raised the cane again. This time she put some f***e into the effort and the crack of the cane excited a strangled cry from Rebecca.
“Somewhat better Alice!” observed Robin. “We’ll allow that for the first stroke! Nevertheless I expect the following strokes to be harder or you’ll be amassing some more extras!” Alice astonished herself with her next stroke for it landed with weight, viciously across the centre of the proffered buttocks. Rebecca yelped and her muscles tensed with the pain. Alice was nearly insane with the horror of what she was doing. It felt as if another will than her own was raising her arm and flogging the wobbling buttocks. There were tears streaming down her face but she methodically continued the caning wanting it to be over with. Rebecca was crying out in pain as the rattan curled around her cheeks. Her torso heaved as she gasped great gulps of air between her sobbing cries. Alice had a strong arm and she no longer had any control over the f***e of the blows she was landing on her lover. Robin was counting the strokes carefully and when he had reached eighteen Alice quickened the pace wanting to bring an end to the ordeal as quickly as possible. The last six strokes fell in a rapid staccato on Rebecca’s buttocks and she gave vent to a long wailing scream. When it was over she lay across the desk sobbing mournfully. Alice was crying in sympathy, staring horrified at the beaten girl whose rear was striped and bruised with ugly red weals.
“Oh Becky I’m sorry…” she began and she was on the point of flying to her and folding her in her arms. Robin was not about to allow that however. The girls could comfort each other after the punishment had been administered!
“Very well Rebecca you may stand now and thank Alice for your caning!”
Rebecca eased herself to her feet and replaced her clothing “Thank you Alice.” She murmured.
“Excellent!” noted Robin “Now give Rebecca the cane Alice and get yourself over the desk for your own punishment. Alice obeyed almost thankfully knowing that it was going to be much easier taking the cane than it had been to administer it to Rebecca. Rebecca wiped her eyes and, laying the cane aside for a moment, proceeded to lift Alice’s skirt and lower her knickers. Rebecca was in fact much more experienced than Alice in the application of punishment. It was by no means the first time she had been called upon to chastise one of her s****r slaves. She took up her stance therefore and began to beat Alice firmly and expertly. The men watched with growing satisfaction as Alice shook and howled under the barrage of cane strokes rattling across her full rounded cheeks. When at last it was over the wretched girl was crying piteously, shuddering and patting her swollen buttocks pathetically.
“Very good!” said Robin “You may stand up now Alice!”
“Th… thank you sir.”
“Right now both of you.” Robin sternly addressed the two penitents. “The pair of you have been asking for a stiff good hiding for a few days now! Some of your little escapades and disrespect have merited a far worse thrashing than the ones you’ve just had! You may be thankful that Daniel and I have decided to be merciful! We are having dinner in the Star Chamber in one hour. By that time we expect to see you both dressed properly for dinner in formal evening wear and to be duly attentive, respectful and obedient for the rest of the evening! The cane will be on the dinner table and any further infractions in your behaviour tonight will be punished immediately! Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” said Rebecca meekly.
“And you Alice?” asked Daniel.
“You’ll refer to your husband as Sir when being chastised Alice!” Robin told her severely.
“Y… yes Sir!”
“Good! Bear it in mind in future! Well Daniel I think we’ll go and have a little aperitif in the library whilst the ladies are preparing themselves for dinner shall we?”
“Aye sounds good to me Robin.”
As soon as the men had left Rebecca groaned and rubbed her bottom. “Owwwerrr! My bl**dy arse! That was a hell of a walloping you gave me Alice! Remind me not to play tennis with you! Your ground strokes must be formidable!”
“Aye well yer weren’t ovver light on me either Becky! Me bum feels like I’ve bin sittin’ on ‘ot coals!”
“The bl**dy bastards! I bet they’ve been planning this for hours! They’ll be sat in the library now congratulating themselves! This is their revenge for us making them squirm over their morning’s bl**dy fishing!”
“Aye and fer trappin’ ‘em in t’ showers t’ other day!”
“And possibly for bullying them into making love to each other the other night!”
Alice suddenly giggled “Aye well! I suppose when yer add it all up we did ‘ave an ‘idin’ comin’ to us!”
Rebecca dissolved in giggles “Yes I suppose our conduct has merited some just desserts! It’s a good job the two sods don’t know what we got up to with Debbie and Julie today or we’d have another welting coming to us!”
“Oh aye! We’d better keep that one under us ‘ats fer t’ moment Becky love.” Alice rubbed her bottom gingerly “bl**dy ‘ell that cane ‘urt! I’ve never bin caned before!”
“Happens to me all the time!”
“I’m not sure as ‘ow ah want ter mek an ‘abit of it!”
“Well I’d get used to it Alice! You’re a slave of this House now and getting your rear end roasted on a regular basis comes with the patch! Wait till the Lady exercises her arm on you! What you just went through will feel like a butterfly’s kiss in comparison!”
“Does she cane you often then?”
“Monotonous regularity is the phrase that comes to mind Alice! Anyway we’d better go and get ready for dinner.”
“Aye! Do yer think there’ll be any ice in t’ freezer? I could do wi a cold compress on me backside now!”
“Come on we’ll go up to my private chambers in the slave’s wing and fix ourselves up! We can be plotting our revenge on Messrs Robin and Daniel whilst we’re tarting up!”
“bl**dy ‘ell Becky don’t be goin’ an’ upsettin ‘em anymore tonight! Ah don’t think me backside could tek it!”
“Well we’ll see! Hmm Abigail’s got a lovely evening dress that would suit you down to the ground and she’s about your size. Let’s see if she’ll lend us it! It’ll look great on you and Abi never wears it!”
“Aye an’ mebbe we can squeeze in a quickie whilst we’re getting’ dressed! Ah don’t know about you but that canin’s got me all horny again!”
“A girl after my own heart! Come along little dear! I’ll show you a trick I pulled off a porn sight on the Internet once!” The two women, thoroughly incorrigible, set off happily in search of further mischief. There was no keeping a good slave down!
The stew and dumplings were everything that Rachel had said they were. Jennifer was on her second helping gratefully enjoying the rich stew with its compliment of potatoes, carrots and turnips mixed in with the hearty chunks of beef in rich sauce. The dumplings were golden white balls of suet soaking up the gravy. It was the sort of meal that would make a dietician fall down in a dead faint. It was just wonderful! Jennifer’s only concern was to leave room for the rhubarb crumble and custard that was the promised follow up and would have made the same dietician hold up their hands in despair and disappear into voluntary exile. It was a happy meal. The aftermath of the day’s events had left them with an air of relief and gaiety and Sebastian’s presence at the table was a warming boon. At last they could eat no more and they gathered before the big fire. Sebastian pulled up an old wooden chair whilst Rachel eased herself into her old armchair. Jennifer squatted on the rug beside Rachel with her head on her lap and with Chester curling up in satisfaction on her lap.
Sebastian looked concerned. “I wonder if you would forgive me ladies. But it is quite well ventilated in here and….”
“Oh go ahead and smoke Sebastian!” Rachel told him.
“Thank you Miss. I confess that I do like to partake of a bowl of tobacco after a meal.” Sebastian pulled an old worn pipe from his pocket and began to fill it from an old leather pouch. The tobacco was rich and aromatic and Sebastian leaned back in his chair in great content, trickling the smoke out from his lips. “Well now Miss Jennifer. I believe that you have some questions.”
That was putting it mildly thought Jennifer “Yes Sebastian I do! Rachel has explained that people of the Line are very long lived. She also tells me that in some way this is tied up with the lady we helped today. Rachel says she is hibernating! I want to know what all this means.”
Sebastian looked thoughtful for a moment. “Hibernation, as a term, may be a little misleading in this context Miss. We generally think of hibernation in terms of a****ls that slow down their metabolic rate and pass into a state of stupor as a sort of seasonal condition. This is not the case with our own people however. Enhanced humans do indeed pass into states very similar to that of other hibernating creatures but it is not as a survival mechanism to pass the winter months, (or summer months in the case of estivatory a****ls), as would be the case with a bear or some similar creature. In fact it would be somewhat more accurate to describe Alpha hibernation as a sort of rejuvenation process rather than hibernation. Admittedly that is a rather superficial analysis and the whole phenomenum is still somewhat of a mystery. However it is a well-known and studied characteristic of Alpha Sensual humans. In recent years there has been much greater interest in the subject and there have been several seminal papers written about it. A Professor Sehler produced a landmark thesis some years ago entitled “Hibernatory Rejuvenation: System Redundancy Reversal in Alpha Sensual Human Naturally Induced Torpor.” Largely the professor argues that there is a wholly different set of physiological characteristics distinguishing the sporadic long-term soporific conditions of Alpha people to other states of u*********sness and semi-consciousness. For instance there are very different chemical processes involved in the actual triggering of the system. These, in normal mammalian hibernation, are substances known as HITs, or Hibernation Induction Triggers, usually thyronamines, which are a sort of opioid produced by the body to induce hibernatory states which, in these instances, are characterised by a form of controlled hypothermia and a greatly reduced metabolic rate. However in the case of Alpha human pseudo hibernation ….”
At this point Rachel cleared her throat loudly. “Sebastian dear! I think Jenny’s eyes are starting to glaze over!”
“Oh I’m sorry. Perhaps I was being a little too technical.”
“I don’t know whether you were trying to explain hibernation or induce it Sebastian!”
“Forgive me! I may on occasion have a tendency to over elaborate somewhat.”
“Perhaps I ought to try to explain things in laymen’s terms to Jenny Sebastian. You can weigh in with the heavy artillery as and when required ok?”
“By all means Miss Rachel. Do continue!”
“Ok! Now listen Jenny. First of all it hardly need be said that everything you hear tonight is confidential in the extreme. These are very deep secrets of the Line Jennifer. They must not be uttered outside the walls of this house. Do you understand?”
“Yes Rachel. I think so.”
“I’m serious Jenny. This is very dangerous stuff to be talking about! You shouldn’t even really be exposed to all this at your age! At the very least I must have your solemn oath that this information goes no further! That includes between intimates that are not part of the House of Mathom! That means Julie for one Jennifer. Not a word of this must you whisper anywhere! Now swear that you will keep this secret!”
“Rachel I swear! On my honour as a slave of this House I swear!”
“Good enough Jenny. Ok now a little earlier we were starting to discuss the longevity of Alpha Sensuals. I was telling you how ancient your Mistress is and I got sidetracked off into my personal reminiscences. Still the point I was making is that you belong to a very ancient and revered branch of the Line. So pure is the Mathom Line Jenny that people with close genetic affiliation to it may be the longest lived of all Alphas.”
“But how can they live so long? They must get old like anybody else.”
“Perhaps that’s a good place to start Jenny. The mystery really is not why do Alpha people not get old very quickly but why in fact do people get old at all? Aging isn’t quite as simple a thing as it seems to be on the face of it. How old are you?”
“Why I’m nineteen!”
“Of course I am! You know that!”
“Well yes to a point you’re perfectly right. As an entity, an entirety, a system if you like, then yes, you are nineteen. The trouble is Jennifer that there isn’t a single cell of your body more than about five years old at the maximum. The vast majority of your cells are considerably younger than that. Suppose that you took a brand new car and you had an unlimited supply of new spare parts. Suppose then that every time a piece showed some signs of wearing out you replaced it with a new one. At what point would you have to say that you had a completely new car? If you had replaced every component of the car at least once is it still the same car you started with?”
“Well yes and no I suppose.”
“Yet this is what happens with a human body, or any living body Jenny. Your cells die by the millions every day. As soon as one dies it is replaced. If it wasn’t your whole body would wither and die within months! Every organ in your body bar your brain, and I’ll come to that in a moment, replaces every cell in itself continuously. That’s what I meant when I said that there’s no part of you older than five years old at the outside. This is true of all people by the way Jenny not just Alphas. The brain is the exception. People Start off with a fixed number of brain cells and gradually lose them throughout life. This doesn’t mean however that all their brain cells are old because whilst the body doesn’t replace brain cells it does replace all the material in them regularly. The cell is itself a system and a highly complex one. All the components of a cell are regularly replenished. Now if you add all this up you have to start to wonder at some point just why do people get old? The brain apart there would seem to be no reason why a body cannot continue replacing its worn out components indefinitely. Aging isn’t a simple process of a body just wearing out Jenny. Something else has to happen. You might I suppose call it a multiple systems failure. Some argue that it’s actually a mathematical probability of accumulating random failures that eventually add up to a general break down in the whole rejuvenation system. These failures actually seem to occur within certain important genes, about 4,000 of them so I’ve read, that are important for the regulation of bodily functions. Each time one of these is damaged then there is a slight accumulation of the overall inability of the system to repair itself perfectly. This is the theory in any case. I’m not an expert in these fields and I’m probably explaining it all wrong. How am I doing Sebastian?”
“Quite well up to a point Miss Rachel. You are, by necessity over-simplifying the subject but I think Miss Jennifer will be able to gather the general drift. I think it important to point out however that the aging process is not well understood and that there are multiple theories concerning it.”
“Yes and that’s kind of weird Jennifer. Every living thing we see gets old and dies and yet we really don’t know why. Think of it like this. Living organisms can be categorised according to their projected lifespan. Why should that be? Why does a parrot live longer than a blue tit? Why does a dog live longer than a rabbit? Why does a Bristlecone Pine live longer than a willow? The truth is we simply don’t know. In the case of mammals there seems to be a correlation between the size of a mammal and its longevity. Generally speaking the larger the a****l the longer it lives. Cats will live longer than mice. Cows will live longer than cats and elephants will live longer than cows. All very neat and tidy you might think except that there is a glaring exception: humans! Even in ancient times, without modern medical assistance, people occasionally lived to be well over a hundred years old. No other mammal does. Nobody knows why. The point of all this Jenny is to explain that aging is a complex subject. It almost seems as if the rate of aging is actually genetically coded into a living organism. It’s as if a life form carried about a genetic blue print of planned obsolescence, a preordained self destruct system if you like. Why?
Well you have to remember that dying is actually a very good thing. Of course for the individual organism it’s a complete disaster! But for a species as a whole then the death of individuals is eminently a pro-survival mechanism. If the individuals didn’t die then the species would instantly overpopulate and exhaust its food resources. You could argue that there are two basic survival mechanisms for a species. Live fast, die young leave a lot of babies or slow down, live a long time and breed slowly. Often short-lived species tend to be very fecund. This of course is not a hard and fast rule naturally. You have to take infant mortality into account for example. A long-lived species of fish might produce millions of eggs for instance yet hardly any ever survive to become adults. You could work another factor into the equation. The less offspring a species produces the lower the infant mortality rate. Creatures producing few young generally have a higher degree of parental burden. Their young are more precious. They look after them better. Nevertheless an ideal circumstance for a species is for it to replace its losses with a comparable number of offspring. Without the losses it overpopulates, too few replacements and it dies out.
Perhaps you begin to see the great paradox in the Line Jennifer. Nobody as yet knows how but probably some time toward the end of the last ice age a new genetic variation of human beings emerged. In these humans the normal rules of longevity, among other things, were suspended. This was the beginning of the Line Jennifer. It is probable that many early Alpha humans interbred with other humans. This could be the reason why the human a****l doesn’t fit exactly along the curve of mammalian longevity. I don’t know. I’m out of my depth here. What does seem apparent is that many humans that are not recognisably Alpha Sensual do carry some Alpha genes. Now the genetic code of the Alpha simply doesn’t add up. The system breakdown we talked about earlier just doesn’t occur in the same fashion. Alphas just simply keep on living and living. I think quite early on Alpha people recognised their own uniqueness and deliberately cultivated it. There has always been a tendency for people of the Line to seek out their own kind and reinf***e their genes through marriage. The trouble is that Alphas are generally not very fertile. It’s likely therefore that the system of large extended marriages of Alphas with many mates was an early response to this problem. Whatever the cause the Line did grow albeit slowly and tended to propagate its own lines. Thus you got a whole sub species of humans living within human societies of very long-lived people with all the other mental and physical characteristics that we’ve talked about before.
Now you have to be aware that to begin with we don’t know how this occurred and secondly we don’t know why. Or to be more precise we don’t really understand the mechanisms behind the Alpha Sensual genes. On the face of it, it all looks just dandy. Here is a sub species of highly advanced human beings possessing apparently perpetual youth. Only our low birth rate actually stops us from completely taking over the planet. We have immune systems that demonstrate incredible powers of restoration. We’re immune to most illnesses, we don’t get cancer, we don’t die of cardio-vascular disease, you nearly have to kill Alphas with an axe! Of course we do die. As much from the simple accumulation of pure chance for one thing. There has also been deliberate persecution of Alphas. Other people have hunted us down ruthlessly and in some ways you can understand why! We represent a terrible threat don’t we? Like I’ve said we could be the natural successors to the nominate human species. But it goes further than that.
There are some six billion human beings on this planet Jennifer and that figure doubles approximately every thirty five years. Human beings have already broken the mould when it comes to the balance of their numbers. It might, as I’ve said already, be due in part to the admixture of Alpha genes in the species. In a sense humans are just too successful for their own good. They’re too intelligent, too long lived, too good at manipulating their environment to suit their purposes, too good at protecting and rearing their young, too good at simply increasing their numbers. Over population is almost inevitable. If all that is true of ordinary people how much more is it true among people that have all those advantages enhanced?
Alpha people can and do live for centuries. Because of the prejudice against them Alphas have become very good at hiding the fact. Most Alphas “die” many times and the Line has developed a genius for staged death and subsequent reappearance in another identity. I can tell you for a start that your own mother hasn’t always been known as the person you know. The lady we saw today will undoubtedly turn up somewhere in the world with completely new documents and a whole alternative life story. There’s probably a death certificate, signed by a doctor of the line, in some records office right now declaring that whoever she used to be is now among the dearly departed. Somebody such as your Mistress has probably forgotten half of the names she has walked under. Once I discovered that an apparent leading cause of death among Alphas is disappearance without trace! Lost overboard ship, lost in a jungle somewhere, missing presumed dead! The Line has a whole industry devoted to the faking of new identities. The cleverer societies become at tracing identity the cleverer the Line becomes at sidestepping it. Our own web of interconnections helps of course. People in the Line constantly adopt other people into their families, are prepared to swear blind that they were born there etc. We look after our own.
Of course there’s a real danger in the case of loose radicals, Alphas that are not under the umbrella of the Line. In older times it wouldn’t have mattered so much. They were easier to find and in any case they would rarely have come to general notice. Nowadays with mass media and modern medical know how they are a security nightmare. How long is it before some bl**dy Sunday paper suddenly produces a banner headline proclaiming that doctors somewhere have discovered somebody walking about with the fountain of youth running through their veins apparently. It could blow our cover completely. Then everybody is going to be howling down our throats demanding the secret of eternal youth and woe betide us if we can’t come up with it! In fact we have researchers working day and night trying to isolate the factors behind Alpha Sensual longevity and other characteristics. It might be that one day we can really provide that as a gift to humanity. But if we do we have to be damn sure that we’re not opening Pandora’s box! What price overpopulation when everybody can live to be hundreds of years old? Where do we go from there? We’re already banging on the door of our natural resources now! Environmental degradation through overpopulation is a fact now. A breakthrough into longevity research could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back! We could bring utter ruin to human civilisation.
You’ve been told I’m sure Jenny that Alpha people have to conform to very strict ethical principles. We have an enormous responsibility. Not just because of the privilege of longevity but for all the inherent advantages within us. This is why we have an institution of slavery. Such responsibility necessitates a high degree of discipline. Only people that are tied to the Line, and its moral principle, with bonds of steel can be entrusted with that responsibility. We deliberately surrender our freedom. We take oaths, binding pledges to use our capabilities for the greater benefit of mankind. You can see why. We could only release the secret of the Alpha gene to a stable, disciplined and responsible human society. Anything else could mean catastrophe. Right now the society on this planet does not meet those criteria. I would guess that the long term policy of the Line is to gradually assume more and more responsibility for society until there comes a point where it can impose a more ordered and valued civilisation from within. It wouldn’t be the first time that the Line has intervened decisively in human society but you can well imagine the pitfalls inherent in such a policy. History is full of the wreckage of societies that somebody thought they could do a better job of!
In the final analysis we don’t even know if the Alpha gene is ultimately a great gift to humanity or a dreadful handicap any more than we know whether human intelligence itself is. Both things might be evolutionary dead ends. Experiments doomed to failure. Nevertheless we possess those things and we are under the frightful responsibility of using them wisely. There may be a critical point Jenny. A point where too little of a thing is worse than not possessing it at all. The human race is intelligent enough to destroy itself. Is it intelligent enough yet to save itself? It may be that great longevity holds the seeds of destruction within it but it also holds hope too. Wisdom comes with age. Very old people with enormous mental capacities are possibly the only hope that can reverse the tragedy of our species. Within the Line we have created a set of stable principles for our own self-government and protection. We’ve invented high moral codes and high principles of human rights whilst fostering standards of self-discipline and responsibility. We‘ve championed the causes of human culture and learning. We enslave ourselves but yet the cause of freedom has no greater advocate than ourselves. For thousands of years we have maintained a stability and continuity that other societies have so woefully lacked. If we can do that within the Line why can we not make that a condition of civilisation in general? Our intelligence and the wisdom of our years have enabled us to find some solutions to the human condition. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that we can ultimately unravel the mysteries of the rest. Our Mistress once said to me whilst I was stuck on some problem or other “Rachel you don’t have to climb all the hills to see the lie of the land. Just climb the highest one and you can see them all from up there.” I’m sorry I’ve been waffling haven’t I?”
Jennifer was sitting absorbing Rachel’s words in great solemnity. “No Rachel. You haven’t been waffling. It’s just that this is all so hard to take in. Is hibernation necessary to this longevity then?”
“Would you care to explain that Sebastian?” asked Rachel.
“I will endeavour to Miss. I shall try to simplify the matter in this instance. Hibernation as you put it Miss Jennifer is not completely a cause of longevity. It appears to be as much a result of it as a causation factor. As you have probably been told then Alpha Sensual humans have a somewhat different life pattern to other members of the species. Firstly they go through a fairly ordinary process of growing up although many of the normal stages in development, onset of puberty and so forth may be somewhat delayed. However in late adolescence or late teens there comes another stage where the person enters a second phase of maturation wherein their Alpha characteristics become active. Until the onset of that stage Alpha people are, without expert knowledge, fairly indistinguishable from anybody else. It is upon the onset of the second maturation process that they start to develop those features that most differentiate them from ordinary people. It is during this phase that the young developing Alpha requires a great deal of attention to enable them to pass this crisis successfully. This phase varies in length but usually continues until the late twenties or even early thirties. There are physiological changes that occur over this period but once it is successfully completed then there appears to be a halting of the physiological clock as it were. Most older Alphas appear to maintain a biological age around the late twenties to mid thirties. Of course many of them adopt cosmetic changes to simulate aging and some of these in fact can be psychosomatically induced. The Alpha seems to be able to maintain this status indefinitely. There is however a price to pay and it is partly a mental one. With the passing of the years the brain seems to become overloaded as it were. It accumulates too much information; too many cross-references and what have you. Miss Rachel didn’t mention that Alpha humans are unique in that they can actually replace lost brain cells by the way. Then there are all the various damage factors that occur to the immune system. Hibernation is a way of the person going into a stasis by which the body repairs the genetic consequences of a long life and sorts out all the muddle in the head to put it briefly. We don’t know the actual mechanisms by which a person is lead into hibernation. Usually a person that has lived a long time begins to feel weary of life, jaded and without further motivation to go on living. Many people at this stage have committed suicide. Alternatively the person can allow himself or herself to hibernate. It is a quite conscious decision and the actual process can triggered by the will. After a varied amount of time in hibernation the person gradually awakens with a substantially strengthened immune system and a much clearer mind. Normally they are quite vulnerable at this period and have to be looked after properly until they reorient themselves.”
“I’ve seen people that have just woken up Jenny.” Rachel interrupted, “It’s hilarious! They’re like little c***dren to begin with, having to learn everything from scratch. They all have some temporary amnesia, can’t remember who they are and so on. They always get it back although you have to treat them like a baby for a while.”
“How old is a person when they hibernate then Sebastian?” asked Jennifer.
“Impossible to say Miss. It varies enormously. Some people may sl**p after only a century of life others go on for centuries and never hibernate. There are no fast rules in this.”
“And how long do they hibernate for?”
“Again there is no simple answer. It may vary from a few months to several years. There are records of people in a hibernatory state for over a century.”
Over a century Sebastian!” Jennifer exclaimed “Surely that is impossible! How could they possibly stay alive?”
Rachel answered, “Jenny there’s another good reason why the Line forms very strong multi marital links! It’s because the Line knows that there’s not only a high parental burden of bringing up maturing Alphas but also a high geriatric one too. We not only have to look after our k**s and maturing adolescents but we also have to maintain safe environments for our hibernating elders too. This House used to provide sanctuary for many sl**pers. Nowadays we have a lot more specialised facilities for them but here, at the Hall, we still keep some special places for those who wish to hibernate here. They are guaranteed safe sanctuary for their hibernation here. One of Sebastian’s duties is to care for these people during their hibernation. These people are those of the House of Mathom Line. Here they are safe to sl**p.”
“But how do they live without food and drink?”
“Well they don’t of course! Admittedly, as Sebastian has said, their metabolic rate drops dramatically but obviously they can’t keep even a low level of life without some sustenance and water. Throughout history our people have learned how to provide that. There are ways to feed and water hibernating people. sl**pers even can feed themselves! You’ll see in the cells where they are resting there is always food and drink easily at hand for them. They may come to a state of semi-consciousness every few days just to pick up water and food. They don’t really know they are doing it. Sometimes we have to control them and make sure they are taking enough in. Obviously they don’t require the same intakes as a fully active person but they do need some calorific input. The line has developed these techniques over millennia.
Sadly sl**pers have always been vulnerable and those elements that have persecuted us have frequently targeted them. It was traditional at one time to kill our sl**pers with wooden stakes. We were vilified as vampires, the living dead if you will. We lost many in those times. In recent years of course we have learned to use modern medical practises to keep our sl**pers healthy and alive. Those people that have so long persecuted us are now on the defensive. We had to get ruthless. Now we hunt them down and destroy them where we can. We have a whole military wing of the Line dedicated to the perdition of our enemies wherever they may be. And we’re good at it Jenny! Damn good! We launched devastating counterattacks against our enemies. After centuries of defence at last we emerged from our bunkers and went on the offensive. We s**ttered our enemies like chaff. Do not believe for one moment that this valley is merely protected by good intentions Jennifer. We, who had founded an empire of love, were obliged to re-learn the lessons of war. Read your Sun Tsu! Supreme excellency in warfare consists in defeating the enemy without having to fight. To our enemies we’re a will of the wisp, a ghost in the shadows. They never know who we are; they don’t even see where the attack is coming from. Before they are ready to fight they are already defeated. This is our strength Jennifer, our power, our heritage. We are the Line! c***dren of the Goddess! Destiny belongs to us!”
Rachel’s soft eyes had filled with a steely, almost fanatical conviction that Jennifer had never seen before. This was the Line too she saw. This iron determination and cold-bl**ded commitment to its cause defined it as surely as its heated passions. It could love without hesitation or reservation yet kill without mercy or remorse. Jennifer felt a thrill of fear oddly mingled with a tingle of pride. “Can we be so terrible Rachel?”
Rachel’s eyes lost their temporary hardness. For a moment she became wistful and Jennifer was shocked to see tears in her eyes. “No Jenny. Forgive me. I’ve spent time researching the historical backgrounds of the Line and there is a lot of tragedy mixed up in it. Our people have been persecuted as witches, vampires, Methuslahs and Goddess alone knows what else. We lost some incredible people Jennifer. Beautiful people. I got angry as I learned about it, an anger that fostered hatred. My own mother I lost because she was f***ed away from the Line, people that could have helped her. Years later I discovered that my true biological father was murdered by adversaries of the Line. I’m sorry Jenny. I’m not the best person to talk dispassionately about this subject.”
“Oh Rachel! I’m sorry.”
Sebastian intervened “I think Miss Jennifer that a number of people of our descendency carry some residue of bitterness. Certainly there have been times of great tragedy. I think that it is incumbent on us however not to have our purposes corrupted by such bitterness. Forgiveness after all Miss Jennifer is the most potent weapon of all. The phrase from Sun Tsu that Miss Rachel paraphrased is a telling one. You can defeat an enemy without fighting them. The surest way to eliminate an enemy is to make him your friend. We might do well to bear that in mind.”
Rachel smiled ruefully. “Years ago Jenny I wanted to join the military wing of the Line. Our Mistress forbade it! I was upset by that at the time but I realise now that she was very wise. I wanted to join for all the wrong reasons. Some crazy notions of revenge or something! I’d have been a lousy soldier! She f***ed me to learn wisdom and tranquillity. I found my true purpose in helping young people, young people that were as messed up as I’d been. I’ve been successful too. The programmes that my f****y and I run have helped many people.”
“Rebecca told me that you run a d**g rehabilitation program Rachel.”
“Yes Jenny and one of the most successful of its kind. We are also in the forefront of finding and helping young Alphas that have become detached from the Line back into the folds of the families. My wife Madeleine is one of the most respected people in the field in that respect. Our Mistress steered us in those directions Jenny. She was so right Jennifer. I’ve brought more devastation on our enemies through the exercise of love than I could ever have done with a gun in my hand! The only gun I’ve ever touched was the one I thought about killing myself with. I’m forbidden now to even pick an unloaded one up! Many slaves of our House have to learn to be proficient with firearms Jennifer. We have shooting ranges out in the grounds. But this is forbidden to me.”
“I hate guns!” said Jennifer with a shiver.
“Then you’d probably be perfect to learn how to use one Jenny! People who love weapons should never be allowed near them!”
“Well I hope I never have to learn how to use one!”
“Jenny if your Mistress tells you to learn how to use a gun then that is what you will have to do! You’ll do it willingly too! Trust your Mistress Jennifer. She’s the wisest woman in the world.”
Jennifer stared deeply into the glowing embers of the fire, her mind far away. She saw her Mistress stretching back over the centuries, grand lady of an Elizabethan household, perilous beauty of the middle ages, indomitable warrior of the dark ages. She saw her as the matriarch in some long decayed Roman villa, saw her in the streets of Athens as Greek learning and philosophy changed the world, watched her striding the banks of the Nile in the time of the pharaohs with her coffle of slaves at her heels or picking her way through the gardens of some Asian dynasty weaving her webs of enchantment with an enigmatic smile. Jennifer cast her mind back through the obscurity of the past and saw her Mistress as a young woman. She knew not from where it had come but suddenly she saw a vision of a raven-haired girl dressed in deerskins and moccasins, with a tiger’s fur about her shoulders and a string of ivory about her neck. The young woman was loping easily across the steppes with a bow hanging at her shoulders and a quiver of arrows at her back, proud and unafraid her purple eyes questing ever toward the horizons of the grasslands. She was seeking something Jennifer felt. She was filled with terrible purpose, young, strong and intoxicated by her destiny, free, wild and elemental as she sought out the future. She was beautiful and terrible and none could stand before her. She had a dynasty to forge and a civilisation to found. In a dreadful moment of hypnotised revelry Jennifer saw the girl cast her eyes towards her and it seemed as if she perceived that Jennifer was watching her through the lens of time. Purposefully the black haired girl with her magic eyes started to walk towards Jennifer. Jennifer shook her head and shivered.
“Perhaps another mug of ale before we retire Miss Jennifer?” Sebastian was saying.
“Yes. Yes please.” Jennifer tried to clear her mind of the powerful image of her vision.
“And perhaps another barley water for you Miss Rachel?”
“Oh go on then! Let’s push the boat out!”
“I will fetch some from the scullery if you ladies will excuse me.”
When he had left Jennifer asked, “Rachel why does Sebastian always call you Miss? I mean you’re a married woman and all that.”
“Oh Jenny I’ll always be little Miss Rachel to Sebastian! Even when I’m a great, great grandmother! I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Jennifer smiled and tickled Chester’s head. “I saw her Pixie!”
“The Lady as a young girl Pixie. Hunting on the grasslands long ago. Dressed in deerskins carrying a bow and arrow. I saw her in my mind. She was beautiful.”
“Creative imagery Jennifer! A construct of your imagination.”
“Nevertheless I saw her Pixie. She was looking for me.”