Sasha had finished most of her evening chores but now one special assignment needed to be done. She knew she was probably going to be up for hours doing it, so she had decided to put it last on her list, then make herself a pot of coffee to enjoy while she worked in the otherwise silent, sleeping, house. She took two steps out of her way to glance into the dining room before continuing into the kitchen. She saw what she expected to see. Monica was still practicing on her keyboard, oblivious to the world around her. She wore large, old-fashioned, bulky, padded headphones that completely covered her ears. Even when they were not emitting sound, the padding in them muffled outside sounds almost completely. She had chosen them because they also prevented the music they were producing to be heard by anyone except the person wearing them.

Sasha paused for a few seconds to watch as Monica worked. She couldn’t hear anything, but she didn’t have to. The worried look on Monica’s face said enough.

Knowing there was nothing she could do to help, she shrugged off her concern and continued her journey to the kitchen and her own problem. As she walked into the kitchen she was somewhat surprised to see Jodi standing by the cupboards reading a package.

"What's going on Jodi?"

Jodi looked up, "I'm not sleepy so I thought I'd check out the herbal tea in the cupboard. Listen to this. Catnip tea has been used for centuries to help people have a relaxing sleep. The same qualities that make your cat happy will soothe you. Just as catnip only works for a percentage of cats, the active ingredient of catnip tea only works for some people, but the mild minty taste and the soothing ritual of having a cup of tea will calm and relax everyone.” She looked back at her friend, gestured with the package, then frowned with a quizzical expression on her face. “Do you believe that?"

Sasha shrugged, unconcerned about whatever advertising or marketing claims the product wished to tout. Without acknowledging Jodi’s question, she changed the subject.

"Actually, I expected to find Rita in here, I haven’t been able to find her anyplace else. I thought you were in with Master.”

Without waiting for a response, Sasha began to assemble the makings for a pot of coffee. That drew an amused, if slightly puzzled reaction from Jodi. “Coffee? At this hour?”

Sasha answered without looking up, as she deftly continued her preparations. “I asked Vivian to swap with me. I knew I was going to be up late tonight anyway, so I thought I might as well be the one to stay up to watch over Amanda. Besides…..” Her voice trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished. She paused in her work and stared, unseeing, at her motionless hands.

Sensing Sasha’s distress as much as seeing it, Jodi softly prompted. “Besides, what?”

Sasha sighed heavily. “Rita. I wasn’t sure she would be able to sleep tonight, and I thought she might want somebody to talk to. We’ve teased her about her becoming Roboslave, but joking aside, she’s going in for a major operation tomorrow.” She continued working, but said nothing further.

Jodi waited a few seconds to see if Sasha would continue, then when she didn’t, Jodi moved to stand beside Sasha and put her arm over Sasha’s shoulder, drawing her into a hug.

She spoke softly, comfortingly. “Look Sasha, he wouldn’t put Rita through this if it was dangerous. He said the doctor doing the implants is the best they have, and that he’s done dozens of these without any problems. Rita will be fine.”

Sasha gently extracted herself saying, “I hope so. Where is she anyway? Have you seen her?”

“She’s in with him. He said he wanted her for the night.”

Sasha paused again to turn to look at Jodi. With more than a hint of surprise in her voice she asked, “He took her to bed? I'm surprised. Usually he doesn't touch us if we're being punished. I guess he wanted to see what she's like one last time before she gets her implants."

Jodi shrugged, then added dismissively, "Nah, I don’t think so. More likely he just wanted her. You know him; why should he deprive himself of something if he wants it? Especially if it’s one of us in his bed.”

Jodi grabbed a mug in the cupboard, then proceeded to open the box of tea. As she did so she glanced over at Monica who was still practicing, concentrating on her every move. “I don't want to bother Monica to ask, but why is she still up and why is she practicing so intently?" Jodi poured the boiling water into the mug. "There's lots of water if you want a cup."

"Nope, thanks. I'll stick with my coffee. The stuff you’re drinking would put me to sleep. I need to stay awake. To answer your question, Monica's piano teacher asked her to fill in for him at his church and she wants to make sure she's good enough. She told him he would have to get permission from Master. Her teacher gave her a letter with his request to give to him, but now she's worried Master won't think she's good enough.” She paused, then added somewhat pensively, as though she had just thought of what she was saying. “You know, I've never been a churchgoer, but I'd like to attend that performance. I'm going to ask Master for permission to go, but not let her know I’m there until after she's done. Would you like to join me?"

"She can't hear us can she?" Jodi asked.

"Nope, when she looks like that. She’s so engrossed in her music she wouldn't hear a bomb go off. Why are you concerned about Monica hearing? Did you want to talk about something?" Sasha pulled out a chair at the table for herself and nodded to Jodi to take the opposite chair.

"Yeah I'd like to go to that church performance with you, so please let me know when it’s coming up, so I can ask for permission too. But I really wanted to talk about Rita. The next six months are going to be terribly hard for her and I don't know if she can handle it. Hell, I don't know if we can handle getting punished for all those times she’s going to screw up, and she's going to screw up, you know she is."

Sasha knew this was not going to be a simple, quick answer. She chose to address it by giving what she thought was some necessary background to her answer. "Jodi, has Rita ever told you about our childhood?" Taking the questioning look on Jodi's face as a negative response Sasha continued. "Our parents were so wrapped up in their careers and their social lives, the only reason they had us was because mom was allergic to condoms and the rhythm method failed. I have no clue why she didn't use other birth control methods, but obviously she didn’t. Anyway, Rita and I dealt with their indifference in our own ways, but we were both affected by it. Rita has been looking for love all her life. We've all heard the story of how master took her out to dinner and treated her as a free woman." Sasha smiled at the look on Jodi's face. "Okay, we've all been bored to death with that story she's told it so many times.” She laughed lightly at the thought, then continued. “But I think if you scratch below the surface of Rita's behavior you'll find that she thinks master loves her."

Jodi reacted strongly, with blatant skepticism. "Loves her? Are you nuts? No, let me rephrase that... is Rita's ego, id, whatever it is… nuts? He's whipped the crap out of her, he's tortured her, and he was going to kill her." Jodi took a tentative sip of the hot tea. "Sasha, how in the name of all that's good and holy does what he's done to her show up as love?" She added a bit of sugar to her tea, wrapped her hands around the thick mug and sipped slowly.

Sasha took her time answering, choosing her words carefully, then began. "Stay with me here. You'll notice I didn't say in love with, I said he loves. There’s a difference. To some extent he loves all of us, but he’s in love with you. That’s a much higher level of caring. Master is the first person who has taken the time and energy to try to correct her consistently. God knows our parents never bothered to. He treated her with respect the night he took her out to dinner, and from the day he bought her he he’s tried in a variety of ways to help her become a better slave. And yeah, that meant whipping her and torturing her, but he didn't abandon her. When she finally crossed that invisible line he still didn't abandon her because he was going to kill her himself."

Sasha didn't look like she was joking, but Jodi was very skeptical of what Sasha was suggesting, so she probed at what she saw as a weakness in Sasha’s argument, "But you've loved her and taken care of her. You’ve helped her out. Hell, you even lost your own freedom in an effort to help her. Doesn't she realize that you love her?"

A strange look developed on Sasha’s face. "During many of the hours I spent in bondage for Master's enjoyment and a lot of the time I spent weeding in the garden I was examining my life and Rita's life. My mother would have disapproved and called it navel gazing, which was her way of saying it was a waste of time. But think about what you just said: taken care of her and helped her out. That may be part of the problem. She knows I love her as a sister, but maybe not as a whole human being. I didn't let her stand on her own two feet; I always rushed in to help. Older sister syndrome,” she added wryly. “As you correctly point out, rushing in to help Rita is what got me enslaved. The difference between he and I is that master just expects her to solve her own problems. He tells her where she’s failed…okay, he whips her for it too, but then he just expects her to take care of it. He treats her as an adult who can see what needs to be done and can do it. He expects her to do the necessary things without ‘being taken care of’. She fought him, but I think she recognized that difference in him far sooner than I did. In his own way, I think he made it clear he respected her, and yes, in a way, he loved her.”

Jodi frowned, staring at her cup of tea, but she didn’t disagree with what Sasha had just said. Sasha took the frown to mean she wasn’t convinced and was thinking about it, maybe looking for an argument to offer. Sasha took the pause as an opening to continue making her case.

“You did the same thing and that's why she loved you even before you gave up your freedom for her. In exercise class you told her what to do and you expected her to do it. You assumed she could do it, and with minimal guidance, she would. You didn't automatically foresee failure or expect that you would have to step in. Continuing guidance and refinement, sure, but not wholesale support for her inability.”

Jodi nodded silently, accepting Sasha’s assessment. Sasha continued.

“Both of you accepted her for who she was and just told her how you wanted her to change, then you stood back to let her do it. Like him, you punished her when she didn’t, but that was because you knew she could do it if she wanted to. Same with him. Neither of you would ever have punished her for not doing something you knew was clearly beyond her ability to do. That would be like punishing her for not being able to beat you in a fight. Master did the same thing. I don't think anybody treated her like that before you two did. I’m guilty; I didn’t. Sure, maybe I tried a few times, but I was never consistent.”

Jodi nodded, then asked, “So what do we do about Rita’s punishment?”

Sasha smiled grimly. “Give her moral support. Let her know we’re with her. Pray we don’t get punished too badly and let her know we forgive her when we do get punished. Make her believe she can do it and get through it.”

Jodi took a large swallow of her cooling tea, then looked up at Sasha as though she was going to respond. Sasha didn’t give her the chance.

“But whether I’m right or wrong, good, bad or otherwise, it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow my sister becomes Roboslave. And she’s probably only the first of us to become one. But that’s the future. Right now, one of us should interrupt Monica to let her know how late it’s getting to be. She may want to get some sleep. I imagine you want to also, but I have too much to do and too little time. I’m going to be up a lot later.”

Jodi rose from her seat, then headed over to Monica. Just before rousing her, she turned back to Sasha. "So you really think she can do it?"

Sasha smiled, "No, not right away. But I think if we let her know we think she can; that we know she's capable, I think she'll rise to the occasion and do her best and that's all we can reasonably ask of her. You and I might have to rein in Michelle though. We'll talk about that later."

Monica didn’t need convincing to go to bed; she was tired. Very quickly she and Jodi were on their way to bed, followed by Sasha who was going to check on Amanda. She stealthily eased into Amanda’s room; saw that the woman was sleeping peacefully and that the baby monitor was turned on. Satisfied that all was well, she headed back downstairs.

Back in the kitchen, Sasha pulled the kitchen laptop onto the table, turned it on, then stared at the blank screen for a minute, thinking. Design a menu for a dinner party. No idea of how many people, no idea if he wants a buffet or a sit down meal, no idea if any of the guests have dietary restrictions. Yup, that's Master. Assign the impossible and expect it to be done. I'll try KD's suggestion.... remember the nicest meal I had in each of the possible situations and then adapt that menu to my cooking abilities.

Because she was not yet fully immersed in her work, her mind drifted back to her sister’s plight. She wondered if Rita was going to live up to her statement that she was going to be a good slave. Sasha had recognized the half-hearted nature of the promise when Rita had said it. However, the very fact that she had said the words, sincere or not, was in itself a major concession on Rita’s part. She tried to imagine what her sister was doing right then…or what the master was doing to her sister…then gave up. Good luck sis!

She lit the fire under the coffee pot, then looked at the shelf of cookbook, pulled down her favorites and began to browse through them. While she was waiting for her coffee, her mind turned to McDougal. The dog had been sound asleep on the mat when she had returned to the kitchen. I wonder when McDougal will want to go out. The coffee was done, so she poured herself a cup and went to sit at the table with it. Time to get busy.

As the sun rose Sasha put the final touches on the Word document she had put together with the menus she had created. She closed the file, stretched her tired and stiff muscles, then said aloud, "I still need a few recipes but I should be able to get then online. I can think of a few sites that should have what I'm looking for. Maybe he'll let me buy a few more cookbooks. I'm so tired I'm babbling out loud to myself. Poor McDougal is the only one here to listen, so he probably thinks I’m talking to him. It's all right boy I just need some sleep." She scratched the dog behind the ears then got up and let him out the back door.

Rita stirred, then realized she was awake. Her consciousness had returned suddenly, as it usually did every morning. It seemed like one instant she was asleep, dreaming, then the next, awake, remembering the dream. Although she was still slightly groggy, she could still vividly remember her dream. What had seemed perfectly reasonable and profound in the dream was now illogical and insipid.

The dream, although a new one, fell into one of the two recurring themes that she frequently had. In this one, she was called into a meeting filled with senior members of her accounting firm, and the executives of a client company. There was a serious problem and they had to find the source of the problem quickly. The dream was never quite explicit about why they had only minutes, but the urgency was abundantly clear. She walked into the meeting, began asking questions, and quickly uncovered the problem. When the crisis was over, the CEO of the client company put his arm over her shoulders while looking at the senior partner of Rita’s firm. He pointedly maintained his point of focus while saying to Rita, “If you don’t get a very sizeable bonus for having solved this, come see me. We always have room at the top for smart new executive material.” The theme of her being free, recognized and richly rewarded for her knowledge, had been played out in her dreams many, many times.

In her first few seconds of wakefulness she mentally existed in both her dream state and her waking state. While it lasted, she could still feel the arm on her shoulders, and at the same time analyze the workings of the dream with complete lucidity. The magic questions that had earned her such lavish praise were now nothing more than ones a first-year accounting major could have asked. But that didn’t diminish the feeling of being free and powerful that the dream had left in her. Continuing to wake up would take care of that.

As her rationality returned, she could not help thinking about her other common dream. In those, she was also free, and the main thrust of those dreams centered on her seeking a sex partner. Actually, it wasn’t her seeking so much as her choosing among the many men who were seeking her favors. She delighted in knowing it was her decision as to whether to have sex, and if so, with whom, along with the when, where, and how, it would happen.

Rita was not one to expend a great deal of energy on something as frivolous as dream analysis. She didn’t need to; she knew exactly what these dreams meant. First and foremost, she wanted to be free. She vehemently disliked being a slave. And the worst part of being a slave, aside from the many and various punishments she received, was being used as a fuck-toy. She hated being used that way, knowing that for so many years she had been able to control the men in her life by doling out her sexual favors. Having that ability taken away from her was worse than some of the punishments she had endured. She knew all that without having to think about it.

What she did think about, however, she thought about incessantly. The one topic of thought she had spent endless hours on was one that was central to her very existence. It was her struggle with her master. Initially she had been sure that after enduring a few whippings she would be able to turn him to her way of thinking in that she would be able to reward him with her sexual skills when she wished, and that she would receive pampered treatment as he sought to keep her happy and continue to reward him. It had taken a while, but she learned painfully, that her plan was flawed. He demanded her performance on his schedule and was adamant about having it his way. Since her realization that her plan was almost certainly doomed to failure, she had wrestled with the decision whether to capitulate and be the good slave he demanded she be, or continue the struggle, despite her fading hopes. Capitulation was such a bitter pill to swallow, yet he had such damnably painfully ways of showing his displeasure with her. Part of her dilemma was rooted in the fact that she was a very honorable person. She knew that once she made the commitment, it was forever. Once made, no more sneaking in an unapproved orgasm when she felt like it. And also no more half-hearted efforts at pleasing him in bed. It was to be an all-or-nothing decision because that’s the way she was. But until she made that choice, her body was hers to enjoy, and her orgasms were hers to enjoy whenever she wished. Now that she was awake, her mind began to gnaw at that problem again because she would be performing for him shortly and she had to decide which performance to give.