This was a day in which Lisa was truly privileged. It wasn't often she was permitted, let alone invited, to watch television with her mistress, but on this day Madam Colette granted Lisa the privilege of kneeling in front of the screen—naked as always, except for her slave-collar, as clothes were such an unnecessary luxury—while her mistress searched for the relevant news channel. When she selected it, the current story was a report on the Party Caucuses that were a prelude to the upcoming Presidential elections. But this wasn't what Madam Colette wanted her slave to watch. What possible relevance could it have for Lisa? No society would ever enfranchise its slaves. Emancipation has to precede enfranchisement and, however much Lisa's mistress might campaign for her rights, there wasn't much likelihood of that happening any time soon.
It wasn't this news item, nor the one that followed regarding the scandalous murder of a Senator's daughter, but the next feature in which Lisa's mistress, Colette Tuchman-Lee, was once again interviewed for her views on the matter for which she'd campaigned for so many years. And this was especially pertinent to Lisa, as it related to slaves' civil rights and their owners' legal responsibilities. Lisa was fortunate indeed in being the property of a mistress who was in many ways the model slave-owner; one, moreover, renowned throughout the Union for her restless campaigning on behalf of the rights and welfare of slaves. This was bold of her as it was a matter generally regarded as the private concern of their owners. What does ownership mean if you can't do precisely what you want with what you own? Property rights surely took precedence over moral scruples. And where would the economy be if the net benefit of slave labour became the net cost of managing unemployed human resources?
Lisa speculated that Madam Colette's concern with the complex issue of slavery and human rights might have originated from the fact that, like the original slaves shipped over from Africa, her mistress was Black. And, although the majority of slaves in America were still mostly Black, Asian or Latino, Lisa was White. She was legitimate booty from the United States' overwhelming victory in the recent war against the former British colony of Newfoundland. Lisa was sometimes tempted to agree that the briefly independent nation into which she was born was less prosperous than its aggressive neighbour simply because it still adhered to the moral scruples of the much diminished British Empire.
But for now, Lisa had to hold her breath and not fidget during the panel discussion her mistress was so intent on her seeing. And the topic of this was Colette Tuchman-Lee's current campaign to transfer the terms of slavery from life-time servitude to limited-term indenture.
"I know you mean well, Colette," said John Murray, the man chosen to represent the opposing view, as he puffed clouds of smoke from his pipe into the television studio. "Who wouldn't want to improve the lot of those few poor wretches who suffer from unwarranted maltreatment by a reprehensible minority of slave-owners? But we must consider carefully the unintended consequences of any supposed reform to a successful economic model. Recall the reforms made early last century that repealed the practise of mandating children into a state of slavery if their parents were slaves. Although this resulted in such children being freed from inheriting the servitude of their parents, as happened to your ancestors..."
"Is this so, Colette?" interrupted the host, Emily Blackwell, whose towering bouffant hair dominated the centre of the screen.
Colette nodded. "I'm a third generation African-American citizen."
" ... But this policy," John Murray continued, stabbing the stem of his pipe in the air. "This policy had the unintended effect of boosting the international slave trade which had become almost moribund when the Europeans and Antipodeans quit their role in the traditional triangular trade. There was now a huge demand for fresh labour from the traditional African sources and, with the European Empires so weakened after the Eurasian Wars, the United States were able to take full advantage of the bountiful supply and thereby revive the flow of human traffic. And now, of course, there are more nations in the world who practise and benefit from the commerce than ever before."
"So, Colette," said Emily Blackwell turning away from the puffs of pipe-smoke to her right. "How do you answer those who say that the American economy can't hope to prosper if there's any further liberalisation in the conditions of mandatory servitude? Can slave-owners be expected to shoulder further burdens on top of the property-owning taxes and regular slave inspections? What about those whose livelihood relies on unhindered human trade from Africa, Asia and South America?"
"I'd be the last one to deny that there's been progress in recent years," said the Colette on television while Lisa was aware that the Colette on the sofa behind her was watching her slave's reaction as much as her own image on the screen. "Slaves are now permitted to have sexual relationships with one another: even same sex relationships. The ban on casual racism against free citizens has been extended to apply to slaves, however little practical difference this has made. And it may well be that the institution of slavery will be here for many years to come..."
"And are you relaxed about that?" asked the host.
"Relaxed?" said a clearly startled Colette. "Of course not. The institution is barbaric and inhumane. It should have ended centuries ago. How can it be right for one person to be born free and the other to become another person's property?"
"And you claim that you're not a socialist?" John Murray interceded. "That is communist talk. You want to liberate the slaves and then what are they to do? Starve? You want to annul the contract between employer and employee which is different only in kind from that between a slave-owner and his property. There'd be riots in the streets of New York. Taxes would become even more excessive. The American economy would be in a tailspin."
"I've said this many times before and I don't know why I have to keep saying it," said Colette. "I am not a socialist or a subscriber to any kind of un-American activity. But I do believe in a compassionate and ethical relationship with regards to slaves..."
"And this is why you're campaigning for further legislative reforms to limit slavery to a fixed term," said Emily Blackwell in an obvious attempt to steer the discussion away from the general towards the specific. "Do you have political support for this?"
"I have bi-partisan backing from both sides of the House for a review of the terms of indenture and Presidential Candidates from both the Democratic-Republican and Federalist Parties have agreed to back my proposal to institute a State Pension for slaves that absolves the slave-owners' obligation of care for their property once it becomes economically unproductive..."
" ... Paid no doubt by yet more and higher taxes!" interjected John Murray.
"And how do you answer criticism that your reforms only further penalise hard-working slave-owners who're already struggling to make ends meet?" asked the host with an inflexion in her voice that suggested she was about to bring the discussion to a close. "That you represent only the interests of property and not of property-holders?"
"That's ridiculous," said the Colette on television firmly while Lisa's mistress in the living room patted her slave on the head. "As a slave-owner myself, how can it be said that I don't represent the interests of both sides?"
"Indeed," said Emily Blackwell as the camera focused on her. "Well, thank you, Colette. And, of course, thank you also, John. And now we return to the fast-developing story of the hunt for John Booth, the alleged killer of the daughter of Federalist Senator Boston Corbett..."
"Well, Lisa, what do you think?" asked the Colette on the sofa as she set the television sound to mute. "You may speak frankly."
Lisa had long ago discovered that diplomacy was always required when addressing her mistress. Although she wouldn't be admonished or punished for saying something Miss Tuchman-Lee disagreed with, she was sure that the next time she incurred her mistress' displeasure and earned a beating, her apparent disloyalty would be repaid in extra welts and bruises. However enlightened Colette was with regards to the slave-owner's responsibility of care, she also was a firm believer in the merits of discipline.
"I'm sure that limited-term indenture would be a great step forward, Madam," said Lisa, although she'd much prefer to earn her freedom a long time before the end of her term of economic utility.
"And you don't think Murray is right to accuse me of being a socialist?" Colette asked with her eyes slightly narrowed.
This could be a trap, Lisa thought. She was often sure that her mistress was being disingenuous when she claimed that the beatings she administered were solely for Lisa's own good, so she had to be sure that her answers mightn't arouse her mistress' displeasure. In any case, there was a good reason why Lisa could never be open about her views on socialism. It was as a result of America's displeasure at Newfoundland electing a Social Democratic government—Communism in America's Backyard, as it was called—that Lisa's home nation, still nominally a member of the enfeebled British Commonwealth, was invaded and she, along with everyone else who'd resisted the invasion, was pressed into slavery. And now Newfoundland—the last sliver of land north of Venezuela that had so far resisted the American juggernaut—was soon to be incorporated into the United States of America:.
"You're not a socialist, Madam," said Lisa carefully. "You're motivated by a sense of justice and fairness. And, of course, by the dictates of your faith..."
"Well, less by my faith than I should be," said Colette with an indulgent sigh. Although a Bible was prominent in her living room and a Crucifix was nailed above her bed, she very rarely attended chapel and her faith was very much subordinate to her politics. "And, as a slave, do you think slaves as a whole will welcome my proposed reforms?"
Lisa tried not to betray her discomfort at this question. Her mistress obviously believed that Lisa could speak for all slaves, when in fact Lisa hardly knew any others at all. She was rarely permitted out of the house unattended by her mistress and she had little in common with those slaves who visited the house and who discreetly lowered their eyes when they noticed that Lisa was unclothed. Like Colette, most such slaves were Black (but rarely accorded the same honorific of African-American). And those who weren't Black were of Asian origin: reflecting the extensive range of developing nations who resourced the lucrative international slave trade.
"I'm sure they will, Madam," said Lisa. "There can be no slave in the world who doesn't appreciate what you're trying to do for them."
Except perhaps Lisa.
It was true that Colette treated her slave rather better than most slave-owners. Lisa was rarely left as badly scarred from a whipping as many of the slaves she'd seen, whose backs were an ugly mess of raised welts and not-yet-healed wounds. She'd never suffered the ignominy of being manacled to the public stocks and pelted with mouldy fruit and toilet waste by the children of those too poor to afford slaves of their own. But on the other hand, she didn't appreciate being the sex toy of a mistress who believed that her ownership of Lisa's services licensed her to the use of her body whenever there was nothing better available. Lisa had never been tempted to Sapphic love when a teenager in Newfoundland and after all these years she was sure that it was at best the pleasure of close physical companionship rather than sexual ecstasy she ever felt on those occasions when Colette was disappointed by one of the men or women in her life.
Not that being second-best to any of Colette's lovers made Lisa feel better for the groping and physical invasion she had to endure on all these (lesser) occasions of physical intimacy.
"You must understand, Colette," said Tatyana, the nearest to a regular lover that Lisa's mistress had, as she lounged on the chaise longue with a cigarette screwed into the end of an ebony holder. "Although the serfs in the Russian Empire aren't free by any stretch of the imagination, they aren't slaves and the Duma cannot be accused of hypocrisy in siding with the European Union when it agitates for the abolition of the International Slave Trade."
Colette lay across the divan with her head on Tatyana's lap while Lisa knelt in attendance on the bare floor: nude as she always was when her mistress' Russian lover visited. Like her mistress, Tatyana Petrovna was an active campaigner for civil rights although her concern was for that 80% of the Russian Empire's population who were born unfree rather than that proportion of the whole world sold into slavery by poor nations and bought as property by the wealthy: of which the United States, from the Hudson Bay to the Panama Canal, was the most prominent. She was also in love with Colette and only Lisa's stated preference for men stood in the way of their living together as a couple.
"Serfs are slaves, Tatty," said Colette firmly. "Worse than slaves. In America, the children of slaves are born free whereas serfs inherit their status..."
"Not that many American slave-owners allow their slaves to have children," said Tatyana. "It was only because the institution of slavery resembled serfdom that during America's war with Russia over the Bering Straits..."
"Which we won."
" ... which you won—over a century ago—and you still don't know what to do with your Siberian territories ... But it was only because America and its Democracy wished to appear the more enlightened empire compared to Russia's constitutional monarchy..."
"Where most people can't vote."
" ... where serfs can no more vote than can slaves in the United States. It was one-upmanship in the days when America was still uncertain whether it was the junior partner to Europe..."
"Which tore itself apart not once but twice..."
" ... and which both Russia and America left well alone," agreed Tatyana. "And the result of your change of policy is that countries like China and India are now just as much at war with their own people to resource fresh slaves as African nations have always been, and are just as imprisoned by a cycle of civil war and banditry."
Nowadays, Lisa's political and historical education mostly came from these conversations between her mistress and her lover as they became steadily drunker and less coherent before they finally went to bed together, though they didn't always put off their lovemaking until then, much to Lisa's undiminished embarrassment. Lisa knew that, in American terms, her mistress and her Russian lover were unusually well informed about the world and liberal in their opinions, but they were both much more conservative than was normal in what was so briefly the Social Democratic Republic of Newfoundland, despite the cold winds of reactionary opinion drifting over the Gulf of St Lawrence from the American States of Labrador and Quebec.
Colette freely shared her property with her close friends and this generosity extended to her slave. Tonight was such an evening when Lisa was expected to provide sexual services to both women that, despite her sometimes obvious reluctance, they most often demanded. It might well have been because Lisa was so reluctant that Tatyana, for all her compassion for the down-trodden in her own country, took such great pleasure in licking Lisa's pale freckled skin; forced her fist up the crack between Lisa's dark red-tinged pubic hair; thrust a strapped-on dildo repeatedly into Lisa's anus while Colette nibbled on her nipples; slapped her pale buttocks until they were redder than the cheeks on her face were from embarrassment; and the two women made demands of Lisa to lick, caress and sometimes even fuck either one or both of them.
"Oh! She doesn't like it, does she?" said Tatyana with a chuckle as she tugged Lisa backwards by her hair and pushed three fingers into the slave's arse.
"I'm sure she does really," said Colette, perhaps from a sense of guilt as she let loose globules of saliva between Lisa's legs that trickled through the tangled pubic hairs to help her lover make the desired ingress.
And when Lisa groaned, more from pain than pleasure, this was taken as evidence that she did enjoy it and further redoubled her mistress' predations on her body.
If Lisa's mistress was the model slave-owner, wondered Lisa, what were the others like?
All she had to go on was the evidence of other slaves' beatings, but even if these weren't so visible, there was how slaves were so cowed, so beaten down: their eyes averted, the reflective wince whenever there was a sudden movement and a shuffling, undignified, unassertive manner that reinforced the impression amongst slave-owners—and those who'd dearly love to be able to afford the cost of a slave—that slaves were somehow subhuman and deserved their treatment as one step in status below household pets (but still, perhaps, above farm animals).
And what had Lisa done to deserve her enslavement?
It was because she'd been on the wrong side of the mass demonstrations that flowed into the streets of Newfoundland's towns and cities when the American troops parachuted in. What chance had Lisa against helicopter gunships, remote-controlled drones and the military prowess of the most feared and most wealthy nation in the world? At least, she'd avoided the fate of the thousands who'd been gunned down in Downtown St. John's: news of which hadn't troubled any news program she'd seen since becoming an American slave.