A row of silver stools spanned the back of every Pleasure Dome Playground. Although each of the twenty-five playgrounds had been designed with a distinguishing theme, the tattooing stations were identical. The silver-tiled floors gleamed, a stark contrast to the jet black counters. The counters held the necessary tattooing guns, stencils, inks and sterilization tools. There was also a touch screen monitor with a connected ID scanner. The counters attached to the backless, adjustable stools.
Sterling was spending the night at the Mermaid Grotto playground, the newest and most technologically advanced of the playgrounds, rumored to be valued at over fifty million dollars. The playground was filled to maximum capacity. Fortunately, Sterling had been able to skip the lineup extending two hundred feet past the tank of majestic great white sharks; a high ranking within The Hall gave him a number of privileges.
There were half a dozen guards keeping the club at its recommended capacity, but it had still taken Sterling half an hour to find an unoccupied section of aquarium tank glass to push the pretty redheaded woman up against. Colorful fish glided close to the glass, accustomed to the writhing bodies against the surface of their tank. Sterling tugged the woman's legs apart and propped her up with the pressure of his body. Quickly peeling away the layers of clothing on their lower bodies, Sterling thrust his hips forwards until his cock found its target. Automatically, his thrusts fell into sync with the rapid, screechy pulse of the electronic song filling the playground. He couldn't help noticing the couple next to him. They'd found the same rhythm, though their position was different - the man had pushed the woman's chest against the aquarium and he penetrated her from behind, his fist filled with her dark curls, her head yanked backwards to reveal a slender, tanning-bed-brown throat.
Once Sterling and his conquest finished, the two of them waited in a queue for the next available tattoo artist, a lineup long enough to rival a check-out counter of a popular department store on Christmas Eve.
Curtis, Sterling's closest friend on the island, stood in the lineup right behind Sterling. After exchanging greetings with the shorter, spectacled man, Sterling turned his attention to the woman at Curtis's side.
She was dressed for a night at the mermaid grotto, clad in a coral pink halter top coupled with a turquoise skirt. The skirt ended above her knees, flared out to resemble a mermaid's fin and slit down the middle to reveal some of the tattoos she'd received on previous nights at the playgrounds. Sterling's gaze followed the tattoos running up the insides of her thighs until the slit ended to give the slightest touch of modesty. Sterling counted three tattoos on each thigh before the skirt hindered his ability to continue counting. She probably had another two to four tattoos hiding inside her outfit and couldn't be worth more than fifty-five points.
Earlier that night, Sterling had pushed up the redheaded woman's skirt - similar in style and cut to Curtis's female companion's, but longer in length - to reveal a mere three tattoos, the first of which started at the hem of her g-string. Only three tattoos: eighty-five points already, and the night was still young.
Sterling had entered the Pleasure Dome three and a half years ago and was already moving into some of the most powerful channels of the industry. He had the most points of anyone in his service-length class and he already had more points than many of the men who'd been part of the Pleasure Dome for longer than five years. He was no longer the introverted, undersexed, socially awkward man he'd been before the Pleasure Dome. He was changing his life.
Two tattoo artists next to each other finished almost simultaneously at the far end of the row. The redheaded woman hopped onto one of the stools and struggled with the sheer, delicate material of her skirt, trying to pull it up without tearing it. Curtis's woman didn't hop onto the stool like the redhead; she adjusted the seat so she could descend onto it. The action appeared practiced and intentionally queen-like to Sterling. He could tell the woman was no stranger to the rituals at the tattooing stations - she easily tugged her own skirt out of the way, granting the tattoo artist easy access to her unmarked skin. Sterling had guessed right; the woman exposed another four tattoos higher up on her thighs.
The redhead looked over at the self-assured woman beside her and noticed the numerous tattoos. The ten-tattooed woman caught her looking.
Smirking and flipping waist-length blonde curls over her shoulder, the woman spoke over the music: "Don't worry. You'll catch up one day." The haughty, look-how-far-ahead-of-you-I-am inflection in her voice indicated the opposite belief. Sterling had worked in the Population Control Sector long enough to know that this belief couldn't be farther from reality.
The tattoo artist who would be working on Sterling's woman held out his hand. "SIDs, please."
Sterling withdrew his Sexual Identification card - he'd recently been updated from his bronze card to a silver one, the result of reaching 150,000 points in The Hall. He had a long road ahead of him before he upgraded again; a gold card required 500,000 points. The most sought-after card inside the Pleasure Dome, the platinum, required one million points. Only three people inside the Pleasure Dome held platinum cards, and they'd been part of the Pleasure Dome since its opening in 2020.
The redheaded woman also pulled out her Sexual Identification card - no silver or bronze on hers. Instead, every woman selected a color and would keep the colored card for the entirety of her time in the Pleasure Dome. As the redhead passed her lime green card to the tattoo artist, Sterling caught a quick glimpse of her name: Justine. At least now when they parted ways, he'd be able to address her properly.
The tattoo artist took both cards to the ID scanner. After angling the monitor away from Sterling and Justine, he began pressing on the touch screen with nimble, practiced fingers. A few seconds later, he swiped Justine's card. Another few touches on the screen, and then he swiped Sterling's card. Sterling had worked as a tattoo artist during his first six months in the Pleasure Dome, so he knew exactly how the technology worked - Justine's depreciation in value would be recorded, the updated data sent to the applicable personnel within the Population Control sector, and the points he received from Justine would be sent to administrators within The Hall.
After returning the SID cards, the artist turned his attention to the tattooing portion of his task. He tossed the book of stencils to Justine, his eyes drifting to the long lineup of women waiting to be branded. Sterling remembered his own feelings of restlessness and boredom when he'd worked this job. Unlike tattoo artists with opportunities to design their own tattoos, the tattoo artists on the island used whatever stencils were chosen and marked letter after letter onto inner thigh after inner thigh. The job dragged on without variety and the shifts were ten hours long. The only perks of the job were the generous vouchers for either alcoholic drinks or recreational drugs at the playgrounds.
Justine chose a thin, script lettering to match the other three tattoos on her body. The artist put the 'S' stencil into place and reloaded the tattoo gun with a clean needle and ink. The music pulsating in the playground masked the vibrating hum of the tattoo gun as it went to work. Justine didn't even flinch as the ink-filled needle ate away at the top layer of flesh. Most women, save the ones with a severe phobia of needles, got used to the tattooing process after their first few tattoos.
The artist finished the 'S' and blotted at the excess ink and blood with a tissue paper. The 'N' took even less time than the 'S' had.
The girl next to Justine finished receiving her eleventh tattoo at almost the same time. She barely gave Curtis a good-bye wave before she sauntered back towards the dance floor with a suggestive sway of her hips, the gauzy material of the skirt flouncing with every step. Justine was still new enough to the Pleasure Dome to remain polite; she smiled and gave Sterling a brief hug before following the other woman's trail back to the dance floor. Such was the case for most of the woman on the island - with every man they fucked, with every new tattoo they received, they became more confident and felt more like Delilah. By the time they got their twentieth tattoo, many of them were just this side of insufferable. Sterling had dealt with enough twenty-tattooed women to know.
Sterling might have been imagining it, but Justine seemed to walk with a more pronounced sway of her hips now, her head thrown back an inch or two higher than it had been before she'd gotten his tattoo. She weaved through the undulating bodies, her hands smoothing along the shoulders blades of men and women as she went. She faced away from Sterling now, but he could guess at her expression - lips pouting or parted, eyelids partially lowered so her eyelash extensions shadowed her cheekbones. The women within the Pleasure Dome, more than most of the men he knew, never forgot about the microscopic cameras on the island, cameras as ubiquitous as malware on a computer with an outdated Anti-Virus program. Every woman he'd met here had a photogenic and practiced expression, the look they'd perfected during their time on The Delilah.
Then Justine was sucked into the vacuum of dancing and thrusting and fucking. Sterling turned from the club filled with strangers to face Curtis. His friend still had his SID card out, the bronze plastic in hand rather than tucked away inside the pocket of his pants.
"Hey, man," Curtis shouted. They'd inched farther from the tattooing stations and closer to the pulse of the techno beat on the dance floor, so Sterling had to lean closer to Curtis to hear what he was saying. "You want to get a drink and chill outside for a bit? I could use a Ref-M right about now."