Miracle of Science

miracle_of_scienceCopyright © 2011 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.

It was humiliating. I mean bad enough that I should find myself made redundant after nearly thirty years of nearly continuous employment. Worse still that all the skills I’d built up in my various meanderings through the great career archipelago were considered insufficient or irrelevant to whatever challenge that latest pipsqueak, fresh out of college, prospective employer wanted me to face.

In a way it was my own fault. Most people I knew had chosen to stick with one career, had worked hard and had specialized. That was the thing these days, businesses didn’t want all-rounders anymore; they were only interested in applicants who had twenty years’ experience in advanced widget shuffling or whatever nonsense. My own life had seen me bounce from one career to another like a pinball caught between the bumpers.

I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I didn’t give them all a good try, sticking in most for at least three years. It wasn’t even my idea to leave in most cases; retired from flying for medical reasons, made redundant from the computer networking job. OK, some were my idea – that office administrator’s post had been a disaster from the first day and I had jumped ship before I was pushed – but at least as many were not.

And now here I was, eight months out of work and becoming less employable with each passing day, redundancy settlement long since spent and savings dwindling to an alarming level; things were getting desperate. If they hadn’t been I wouldn’t even have considered this, but a job’s a job and the bills have to be paid somehow. Seriously though, just how low can a guy get? How completely did I have to demean myself in order to survive?

The advert had said, “Versatile and flexible individual wanted for the post of personal assistant.” Yes I was applying for a job as a secretary. I mean here I am, brain the size of a planet and all I can get is a seat in a typing pool, and even that’s not guaranteed. So I sit in this waiting room surrounded by girls, all of whom are younger, slimmer and more attractive than me, and by about the same degree. The oldest among them is no more than half my age, the largest – let’s face it, it’s rude to say fattest – is still less than half my weight, and as for the least attractive… OK, you don’t have to rub it in; I never was that generously endowed in the looks department, and what little I started with has fared badly against the erosion of fifty-odd years of living – if you can call this living.

They huddle together, my fellow candidates, whispering and pointing, occasionally giggling at the daft old man sitting there in his best interview suit. I can’t blame them, I feel like a jellyfish in a jam factory: vulnerable and totally out of place. The only reason I even applied for the job was because the advert said, “No prior experience necessary” and “We operate a strict non-discrimination policy.”

For me that specifically meant no ageism and no sexism, which put me on a level playing field – at least in theory – with this bevy of beauties. It also meant the field was wider than it might have been otherwise, and in the couple of hours since I’d been waiting, the crowd had thinned from its original hundred or so to about thirty, myself included.

“Mr Sandford?”

She was looking around the room as if actually uncertain which of us would own that title. I stood up and she smiled at me. Late thirties I would have guessed; slightly horsey features – all teeth and nose – and with her hair tied back in a tight bun, enhancing the equine image.

“I’m Melanie Brown. Thank-you for coming along today.”

She extended a limp hand on the end of stiff arm and I took it carefully in my own, worried that I might cause actual damage if I wasn’t gentle. It was warm and soft – not the handful of halibut I was expecting – but she didn’t leave it there long, slipping it out of my grasp and striding back through the door by which she had entered.

“If you’ll follow me, Mr Pandasco has agreed to interview you himself. Would you like something to drink? A tea perhaps?”

I nodded gratefully. The caffeine deprived part of my brain was screaming for coffee, but nerves and the heat of an overcrowded waiting room had taken their toll on me and I was in need of something refreshing. I reached up to adjust my tie, cursing the pointless thing in my mind. I’m not much of a suit and tie person, not at all in fact. I seem to grow half a collar size within twenty-four hours of buying a new shirt, which means that then have to leave the top button undone or risk asphyxia. The tie does a mediocre job of hiding this at best, whilst at the same time inhibiting blood flow to my brain.

I could only hope that my collar wasn’t squiffy and sighed in envy at all the open necked clothing the women around me were wearing. Of course no-one would be particularly interested in looking down the front of my shirt. While there was a little bit of cleavage there, hairy man-boobs are not quite the scenery most people are looking for.

Melanie opened a door and ushered me in with a smile before heading off in search of my tea. I stepped into a large room with an equally large conference table, surrounded by twenty or so seats. As I entered, a slim gentleman of indeterminate, but evidently advanced, age stood to greet me. He had a full head of hair, albeit silver grey, and there was something odd about his eyes; foreign or… something. He held out his hand, firm but gentle, then indicated I should take the seat opposite him.

“Mr Sandford, are you aware of the nature of the job for which you have applied?”

There was something odd about his voice. The accent was unfamiliar, and he spoke with a surprisingly deep resonance for someone with such a slight build.

“Your advertisement said that you were looking for a personal assistant, which I assume means that you want someone to do a variety of tasks as and when asked. It also said you are looking for someone who is versatile and flexible which tends to suggest that the job may be a little more involved than simply filing, taking dictation and typing up the notes of meetings.”

“Would you still be interested if the job only consisted of those things?”

Frankly, I’d have been interested if the job required me to turn up for work every day wearing a pink tutu as long as it paid the bills.

“Sir, I’ll be honest with you, I’ll do just about anything to get back into work right now, including a job that consists of only filing, dictation and typing, but if that’s all there is to it, I probably won’t be staying long.”

He bowed his head in my direction; was he perhaps part Japanese?

“Thank-you for your refreshing honesty. Another question. You are aware that most positions of this nature are filled by young and beautiful women?”

“I am, and I probably wouldn’t have applied had your advertisement not mentioned your non-discrimination policy.”

“Yes, and that makes you as eligible for the post as any of the other applicants who came here today, but the question still stands.”

It was disappointing. I had come here hoping to be treated equally with the girls, and here he was telling me that he wanted his PA to provide a little eye-candy along with the skill-set. There didn’t seem to be any point in continuing this so I stood up.

“Surely that counts as discrimination sir. If you offer the job to anyone, but then stipulate that you’re looking for a young and attractive woman, then it makes nonsense of people like me applying doesn’t it?”

“You misunderstand me Mr Sandford. You have quite rightly said that you do not possess those particular attributes, but this merely means that you will have to go a little further than most to er, qualify for the post.”

“You’re saying that if I can show you I have other qualities you consider important then you would still consider me, even though I’m not young, female or attractive?”

“Am I? Perhaps after a fashion. Another question, perhaps a little more pertinent. How far would you be prepared to go in order to adapt to the needs of the company? How much would you be willing to change in order to fit into what we want you to do here?”

Safer ground. I sat back down and arranged my thoughts as to how I could convince him of my flexibility. Just then Melanie came back into the room with a tray and the interview was interrupted briefly while she poured the tea. Mr Pandasco picked up his cup and blew gently across the top, his half lidded eyes boring into my skull as though they sought to unearth my innermost secrets. I launched into my spiel giving examples of times in the past when I had gone that extra mile. He nodded along as I spoke, but I was left with an eerie sense that it wasn’t my words he was listening to.

The interview went on along what I assumed were more traditional lines; what secretarial skills or experience did I have? Not a great deal, but I could type fast and accurately and I was used to keeping large stores of files in order, both on computer in the real world. He passed me his laptop and told me to take a dictation then file it where I thought was appropriate. He spoke at some length without slowing and I was able to keep up with him on the keyboard until he drew to a close, my having filled three pages. I inferred a few things from the content of the letter – who it was to, what it was about – and burrowed into his filing system to find the place. I passed the laptop back to him, and was rewarded with an approving nod.

How did I feel about travel? I was keen on it having lived abroad at times. So I wouldn’t mind spending extended periods away from home? Home is where you’re happy; under the right conditions I could find home wherever I was. Did I still have a valid pilot’s license? Valid, but not current. I would need some retraining before I could pilot a plane legally again. How about driving license? Full and clean.

The interview seemed to drag on for hours. I knew better than to look at my watch, but was tempted nonetheless. I was pretty sure that the extended time was a good sign and started to get my hopes up. After a while the questions became a little more personal.

“You describe yourself as a team player and yet in your personal life you have very few friends. How do you reconcile that?”

“I work well with others. I’m committed to the successful outcome of any project I’m associated with, which means all aspects including the other people involved. If I can help the outcome by offering help to others then I will.

“As for outside work, I’m not sure how much it is your business, but there are very few people I relate to. Most of the guys I know don’t share the same interests as me, and most of the girls think I’m trying to get in their pants and are put off by, well what you see.”

“You’ve never married, or for that matter had a girlfriend. Why is that?”

“I don’t know how the hell you got that information, but it’s none of your business.”

“It’s important to us to know how you would fit into the organisation. We’ve already discussed our non-discrimination policy so it won’t affect whether or not we employ you. It will however affect who you work with.”

“I’m not interested in guys or anything kinky if that’s what you’re saying. It’s, well it’s more that my looks are something of a handicap, and I never met anyone I liked.”

“Your looks aren’t that bad Mr Sandford. With the right clothes you could look quite attractive to the opposite sex, and yet you seem to make little effort in that area.”

I didn’t have an answer to that, at least not one I was prepared to share. This was part of what had me drifting from one job to another, from one place to another. The who I was always trying to run away from the who I wanted to be; hating the impossibility of it all.

Either Mr Pandasco decided he wasn’t going to get an answer or he read enough from my body language. We moved on.

“Do you know what we do here Mr Sandford?”

“Well, there isn’t a great deal of information I could find on the web or in the public library. From what I can tell you’re some kind of advanced sciencey engineering company. I’m not sure I understand why you don’t advertise more widely though.”

“What we do is highly specialised. It takes exceptional skill and knowledge to fill our contracts and there are only a very few individuals who can build what we sell. Those we have managed to entice into working for us can only do so much in a day, so we are limited in the number of contracts we can take on. Word of mouth in the right communities is sufficient to provide us with more work than we can reasonably fulfil.

“Mainly we build complex components to rigid and exacting specifications. We also conduct research of our own and have a number of devices that are fully or near fully functional and awaiting my decision as to how we proceed with them.

“You see I am concerned that much of what we make here can, in the wrong hands, be used to cause considerable pain and misery, possibly even death on a large scale. It is important to me that what we sell be used to improve the human condition rather than undermine it. This is where you would come in, assuming of course that we offer you the position. How would you feel about that?”

This was a curve ball. I mean how on earth was a personal assistant going to be able to do anything like that? Even not being a typical applicant for the job, even with my wide ranging skill-set, I was no James Bond and this was beginning to sound like industrial espionage, albeit with an altruistic motivation. Assuming of course he was telling the truth about that.

“I can see that you are unsure where you would fit into such a scenario, and that you question my motives. That’s good, it tells me you think and act for yourself, but what if I could satisfy you that you had a place here and that all I have told you so far is true? How do you feel about the concept of being involved in such work?”

I was slow to respond, but found myself nodding as though something deep inside me wanted this and was trying to persuade me to go along.

“Assuming you can convince me then I would say hell yeah, I’m interested.”

He smiled and nodded once, then stood.

“This is a non-disclosure agreement Mr Sandford. I would like you to read it, then we will continue our interview. I have a few things I must attend to. Perhaps I can offer you another tea in the meantime, and possibly a sandwich.”

I glanced at my watch – it was lunchtime, and a late lunchtime at that. Mr Pandasco dropped a thick bound A4 booklet in front of me, the words ‘Non-disclosure Agreement’ printed across its front. I accepted the offer of lunch and opened the document for what I expected to be a long and tedious read.

He left the room without asking what I wanted and ten minutes later Melanie popped her head in carrying a tray with a fresh pot of tea and a beef and beetroot sandwich on rye bread. I know it’s probably not a popular combination, but it’s a favourite of mine and just what I fancied. Melanie poured then withdrew followed by my belated thanks; the document proving more of a distraction than I had first expected.

Mr Pandasco reappeared just as I was turning to the last page. I glanced around the room until he smiled and pointed to one corner near the ceiling, at an almost invisibly small hole. I went back to my reading as he sat opposite me and placed a pen on the table between us.

Maybe there was something in my body language, but he had doubt that I was going to sign. He was right. I scrawled my name in the box provided and he passed across another, mercifully smaller document, this time entitled ‘Contract of Employment.’

He sat still and watched me as I worked my way through it, eyebrows rising by degrees. ‘Will submit to such physical and mental enhancements as are deemed necessary to conduct assigned duties. Enhancements to be made at company expense and full reversal offered at termination of employment’; ‘will undertake additional training and neural RNA remapping to develop such skills as are deemed necessary to conduct assigned duties, skill-set to be established and regularly reviewed by Mr Pandasco’; ‘will be prepared to travel worldwide and undertake special duties in the interests of the company and the world as a whole.’; the list of strangeness went on.

“Is this some sort of elaborate joke?”

“No Mr Sandford. When I make a joke you will know because you will be laughing. This is serious, and if you wish to learn more then you will have to sign.”

He held up the pen for me. What the hell, I’d come here for a job because I needed the cash and this sounded way more interesting than stuffing manila envelopes. I took the pen and scribbled my name for a second time.

“Congratulations Mr Sandford and welcome aboard. I assume you are content to start immediately?”

I nodded my head, I mean what else did I have to do today? He stood and indicated for me to follow him out of the room.

“I have just one task for you to perform here today, then I would like you to go home, pack your things and make whatever arrangements you consider appropriate with your flat. Starting tomorrow morning you will be living here as you undergo the alterations I deem necessary.”

We walked down a short corridor to another large room. The walls were lined with comfortable chairs and low tables and there were about a dozen young women seated around the place, some of whom I recognised from the waiting area below. I followed my new boss through to a smaller room with a low table and three chairs where he indicated that I should sit.

“Outside are the girls we’ve short-listed for the post of PA. I’d like you to help me give them a final interview and make the decision as to which one I take on.”

“Hang on a minute, I thought you just offered me the job.”

He smiled his gentle smile.

“Mr Sandford, just because it wasn’t stated in the advertisement doesn’t prevent me from appointing two people to the post. Your jobs will be different but in many ways complementary, and I suspect that you will enjoy yours more than hers.”

It was obvious I wasn’t going to get any more out of him. He opened the door and called out a name. A girl with long dark hair entered and sat opposite us.

It took me a while to get into my stride. I fumbled a few half thought out questions, which she answered with barely concealed disdain. The interview was short and not very satisfactory, ending with Mr Pandasco guiding her out of the room and saying she would be contacted later in the day with the final decision. He closed the door on and turned back to me.

“I don’t think so, do you?”

“I’d like just to say no, but I’m not sure I gave her a fair chance. This is kind of in-at-the-deep-end sort of stuff.”

“I know, which is why she was the first. She has good qualifications but I didn’t like her attitude earlier in the day, and that was confirmed just now. Take a moment to think of a few questions to ask. When you’re ready we’ll ask the next girl in, and don’t be so nervous. Remember you’re an employee here now and whether or not they like it, you get to say which of them gets the job.”

The interviews went on. The second was a girl I remembered whispering comments about me and giggling with her friends. I asked her how she would evaluate a person on first sight and she gave me an evasive and unconvincing answer. I mixed in several less threatening questions which she fielded quite well, but in the end I put her toward the bottom of my mental list.

They were a wide mix of personality types, bubbly, intense, shy, you name it. I tried not to let my personal feelings affect my decision, but none of them were making a good impression until in walked number seven. Lucky number seven. I mean it did her no harm that she was absolutely gorgeous with shoulder length auburn curls, enticing blue-green eyes and a wide genuine smile, but what sold me was her attitude. For the first time since I’d sat in this chair, I felt like I was being addressed as a human being rather than some unpleasant but necessary part of the selection process. She breezed through the interview and by the end both Mr Pandasco and I knew that we had found our girl.

For good form, we interviewed the remaining five candidates, but none shone like Debbie Marshall, lucky number seven.

“Debbie it is then. I’ll let her know this afternoon when I give the rest the bad news. Very well Mr Sandford, that concludes our business for today. If you would go to the main entrance, there will be a car waiting to take you home. It has a phone and there should be a list of recommended letting agents and estate agents. You shan’t be needing your home for some time now so may I suggest you put it on the market, either to sell or rent as you wish. You should have time to make whatever arrangements you need by close of business today so I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning at say eight o’clock?”

He shook my hand goodbye then turned down a side corridor and disappeared. I made my rather bemused way out of the building and into the waiting car.

-oOo-

By the end of the afternoon I had found a letting agent I was happy with and had arranged to let my small flat furnished. I packed everything I owned of value, whether sentimental or genuine, and took it to a nearby storage facility where I rented some space. Finally I packed my clothes and a few things I wanted to keep with me. It wasn’t as if this were the first time. In the past when I’d had enough of a place or a job, I’d sold everything I couldn’t take, packed everything I could and headed out. There was something cleansing about the process as though you were flushing your system of an unwanted accumulation of crud; an enema of the soul so to speak. I’d never done it this quick before, but I found that old familiar sense of excitement I always associated with leaping into the unknown.

The alarm went off at six leaving me enough time to get ready and leave the place in a suitable state for my first tenants when they came along. I drove my old rust bucket towards Pandasco Industrial Solutions with a growing sense of eager anticipation. The guard, already alerted to my addition to the workforce, waved me through with a cheerful good-morning, and I parked up at the far end of the car park, away from all the shiny beemers and mercs in front of the main entrance.

The guard on the main desk waved me over and clipped a badge to my lapel before giving me directions to where I was expected to go. He picked up the telephone as I walked off, presumably to alert the relevant people that I was coming their way.

Mr Pandasco was waiting in the corridor when I arrived. I checked my watch, but I was still early.

“No need to worry Mr Sandford , I was hoping that a familiar face would help put your mind at ease with all the things we have to get through this morning.”

He ushered me into a room filled with complex equipment and a couple of technicians in white lab coats. In the centre of the room was the grand-daddy of all dentist’s chairs, sporting an altogether impressive array of knobs and dials. Lying across the chair was a black cat-suit made from something similar to Lycra, and connected to it through a complex mess of tubes. One of the techies came over to me and smiled broadly over the top of his clipboard.

“Good morning Mr Sandford, would you mind taking off all your clothes and stepping into the cubicle over there.”

I looked uncertainly at Mr Pandasco, then back at the cheerful character in white.

“You recall the part in the contract about submitting to physical and mental enhancements? You didn’t question it at the time, except in a very general way, and you did sign the contract. This is the first of the enhancements.”

“What is it?”

“A nanite distribution system.” “You want to fill me up with nanites? I’m sorry, I’ve read all the grey goo theories and I don’t want any part of this.”

Mr Pandasco laughed quietly.

“Mr Sandford, the grey goo scenarios concern only autonomous, self-reproducing nanites. This device mimics an insect colony where each individual nanite is short lived and sterile. All nanites are created to order by the queen located in the centre of the chair then delivered through the tubes to the surface of your skin. In your case, they are programmed to burrow down about a centimetre, seek out fat cells then return with them to the surface. Think of it as liposuction without all the slurping and discomfort. Any nanites that remain in your system after the treatment will deactivate after a few minutes and will be passed in your urine. I assure you it is perfectly safe.”

“And the cubicle?”

“A depilatory shower. Unfortunately the suit has to make good contact with your skin, but don’t worry, we have ways of giving you back all the hair you will need or want afterwards.”

I had signed the contract and if this was going to lose me a few pounds then perhaps it wasn’t going to be so bad. I decided to trust him. I was given two little caps, like swimming goggles but without the straps, which I placed over my eyes. A gentle adhesive held them in place as the cubicle filled with a light mist. I held my arms and legs apart as instructed and tried to ignore the growing itch that covered every part of my body. After several minutes I was hit by multiple sprays of warm water and within seconds every last hair on my body, with the exception of my eyelashes, disappeared down the plughole. The sprays stopped and a vortex of hot air whipped around me drying every last crevice in seconds. I stepped back out into the room.

“Now the suit if you please Mr Sandford.”

I thought I might struggle with it since it seemed so much smaller than me, but the fabric was astonishingly elastic, fitting me like a second skin. My hairless body helped as well, providing a smooth surface over which everything slid with ease. I hated to think what I looked like and hoped they wouldn’t show me. I’ve always thought that Spandex should be a privilege not a right, and had too many traumatic memories of oversized, doughy individuals encasing their rolls of fat in brightly coloured, skin-tight clothing.

Everyone in the room was kind enough not to laugh. Mr Cheerful helped me through the tangle of tubing and into the chair, then stood back to flip a few switches. A few moments later, as everything hummed into life, I felt a million tiny pinpricks, like goose bumps, all over my body.

“How long is this likely to take?”

“Oh, I’m afraid it’s not a particularly swift process. I would expect someone of your size to take possibly as much as two hours.”

“So I’m just going to sit here and wait for two hours? Is there anything to read around here?”

“We have a few more things to do, the main one being the remodelling of your face.”

“You what?”

I was almost up and out of the chair before they could push me back.

“I’m sorry Mr Sandford,” Mr Pandasco was speaking again. “Again it falls under the physical enhancements part of your contract. It is completely reversible and, as is also stated in the contract, we will undo anything you wish when you choose to leave our employment.”

I settled back into the chair, uncertainty growing with every breath, and closed my eyes when Mr Smiley asked.

“We’re using a low intensity laser to measure the shape of your face and a somewhat higher frequency one to map out your bone structure. You won’t feel a thing, but I suggest you keep your eyes closed until it’s over as an eye-full of coherent light can be rather unpleasant.

“The actual facial reconstruction uses a similar process to the suit on your body but, because it works on hard tissue like cartilage and bone, it is considerably more uncomfortable, so we’d like to put you under for the hour it should take.”

I kept still until the lasers were done, then it was question time again.

“Just how much are you going to change my face?”

“Enough to fit in with your slimmer body.

“I know you’re nervous about all this, and quite justifiably so, but this will all work out for the best, you’ll see.”

I let out a sigh and nodded.

“OK, shoot me up. I’ll see you in an hour.”

-oOo-

Coming too from a general anaesthetic is never pleasant; the thick head, the dizziness, the nausea. This was worse though because things felt very different. My face ached all over, but mainly around my nose and cheek-bones, my body felt… not all there. I raised my head to look down at how much they had taken from me and let out a mighty bellow of shock and outrage. At least that was the intention. What came out was more of a horse squeak; not loud but enough to alert the techies that I was back in their world. My head dropped back onto the padded headrest and before I could move again, gentle hands were holding me down.

“What did you do to me?”

It was supposed to be a low and angry growl, but yet again it came out as a course whisper; softer and more delicate than any sound I’d made since my balls dropped.

“Try not to move Mr Sandford, you’re still disoriented from the anaesthetic and it’s going to take a while for you to adapt to the new distribution of your body mass.”

I didn’t hear anything past the first comma, I was too boiling mad to be reasonable.

“Mr Sandford? Mr Sandford? If I’m Mr Sandford, then what the hell am I doing with these?”

I pointed at the twin mounds that had so recently obscured my view. That was when I noticed my hands and arms, now slender and graceful.

“What the f*** have you done to me? Help me to sit up, I want to know what you f***ing jokers have been f***ing about at. And what the f*** has happened to my voice?”

“Please er Mr Sandford, if you would just calm down…”

“Calm down? Calm the f*** down? Would you f***ing calm down if you found out that somebody had just turned you into a girl?”

My vocabulary is rather limited when it comes to courser language, that’s because I very rarely swear and it was a fair indication of my state of mind that I was doing so much right now. The door opened and Mr Pandasco walked in.

“Ah Mr Sandford, I see you’re awake.”

“Yes and do you notice anything else different about me?”

“Only the changes I approved and they seem to have taken very well.”

“You approved? You f***ing approved? Don’t you think you might have asked my approval before you let these f***ing arseholes turn their Frankenstein machine on me?”

His lips narrowed to near invisibility, his only display of emotion to date.

“Mr Sandford, I will allow you the expletives this once since you are obviously upset, but we did discuss this yesterday and you agreed to it.”

I stared at him with goggling eyes.

“Just how do you figure that?”

“In the interview I remember you saying, and let me quote you here, ‘I’ll do just about anything to get back into work right now’. We also discussed that most posts like this are filled by young and beautiful women and that you would have to go a little further to qualify for the post. You were still interested to sign a contract agreeing to such physical and mental enhancements as I considered appropriate.”

“I didn’t realise that you planned to turn me into a… ‘young and beautiful woman’. I would have said something had I known.”

“But we haven’t Mr Sandford. Your outer appearance may be different, but you still possess XY chromosomes as well as your male reproductive organs. Their size has been reduced a little to make it easier to disguise them, but as I said before, everything we do in this room is reversible.

“I appreciate that this has been something of a shock, but please allow us to complete the transition, spend some time in your new identity and then decide it it’s really as bad as it seems now.”

I took a deep breath and lifted my newly slim hands into view. Everything seemed so much lighter and easier to move around. Ancient memories, from before nature’s caprice had turned me into a hulking bear of man, resurfaced from the dusty recesses of my mind. Memories of playing dress up with my cousins, Charlotte and Danielle, of feeling wonderfully and gloriously complete and yet at the same time guilty and terrified of what my father would think if he were to see me dressed in one of Charlotte’s party dresses and calling myself… Melody, that was it, because the wonderful feeling left me wanting to sing. So deeply buried, and yet still somehow linked to the restlessness that had driven me all my life.

Could I recapture the wonder of those all too few, too brief memories? Did I dare to drop the barriers that protected me from my impossible dreams, unlock that part of me I had thrown into the deepest and darkest dungeon in my mind and release her on the world? It was too hard too want it myself, too difficult to imagine that there was any peace or happiness in following that line of thinking. The best I could do was reluctantly agree to their plans.

“Alright, one week, then we revisit this and if I want out…”

“Then we will return you to your former self, and as a gesture of goodwill, I will permit you to specify some changes to your weight and appearance when we change you back.”

“Fair enough. I think you’re going to need something to call me other than Mr Sandford while wait.”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry too much about that Mr Sandford. Let us complete the changes and then we’ll talk about that shall we? Please take the suit off.”

I did as I was asked, feeling oddly self-conscious as my breasts were exposed. I don’t know how to judge sizes, but they were more than a handful each as I found out when I tried to protect my modesty.

One of the techies offered me a pair of flesh coloured knickers which I took from him having switched my left arm to cover both my breasts. I dropped my right hand to cover my more modestly size male genitalia and looked around at them pointedly.

“Perhaps you would like a little privacy.”

Mr Pandasco indicated that the technicians should leave the room, then before following them he turned back to me.

“You’ll find dressing gowns in that cupboard over there. Once you’re dressed and comfortable, just knock on the door and we’ll come back in.”

They left and I looked to the underwear they had given me. It was lightly padded between the legs with space to hold my meat and two veg, and on the outside it looked remarkably like female genitals, right down to the pubic hairs. I slipped them on and jiggled my bits to settle them until they were snug and comfortable. The panties left barely a line showing at the waist and legs and, as I looked down at myself, I could see nothing of the man I had been. As well as my new breasts, my backside had been left with a little more padding than the rest of my slim body, giving me an hourglass figure that sent shivers down my spine.

I hunted in the indicated wardrobe for a dressing gown, settling on one of the smaller pink ones. I knocked on the door and the technicians and Mr Pandasco came back in. The younger of the techies – not Mr Smiley – opened a refrigerator and pulled out a mannequin head with what looked like a long auburn wig on it. My hands flew to my head which was unsurprisingly still bald.

“I’m going to have to wear that am I?”

“The depilatory spray killed all your hairs down to the roots so you won’t be growing anything back unless we do something about it, but this is no wig. It is artificially grown, DNA neutral hair, rooted in a gel which will merge its roots into your own skin. The process takes about ten minutes and, so I’m told, causes your head to itch madly until it is settled, so if you will sit on this chair and allow me to hold your wrists until the process is over. You can damage the graft if you disturb it once started.”

Again I did as I was told and watched as the younger techie peeled a plastic cover from the pinkish red underside of the wig. The hair was then settled onto my hairless scalp and shifted until it was seated properly. The sudden weight of the hair was a pleasure, short lived as the promised itching started and I fought a surprisingly strong Mr Pandasco for several minutes until it subsided.

“And now the eyebrows.”

The young techie took a small bottle of light brown liquid and carefully painted a pair of thin brows on my forehead. Again they itched like mad for a while and again Mr Pandasco stopped me from ruining the work.

“It will take a few days for the eyebrows to grow fully; in the meantime an eyebrow pencil will have to do. Would you like to see what you look like?”

I nodded my head and he held up a hand mirror for me. I gasped as the unmistakeable features of Debbie Marshall looked back at me.

“Mr Pandasco, why do I look like the other girl you employed yesterday?”

“Oh it goes so much further than looks Ms Marshall. If you will follow me I’d like to show you your new home and perhaps let you change into something a little more appropriate. I’ll explain as we go.”

I noticed the name change but let it slide given the circumstances. We left the two technicians packing away their equipment and congratulating each other on a job well done. As we walked down the empty corridors, Mr Pandasco started his explanation.

“You remember in our interview I spoke of wanting to ensure that what we build here is used in humanities better interests? At present I visit my clients when we make delivery of their orders and I do my best to ensure that things are above board, but it’s not enough. I want you to accompany me on those visits and use the skills we will teach you and the enhancements we will give you to infiltrate the offices of those clients and look for any indications of nefarious activity.

“Both you and Debbie will accompany me on these visits, although you will remain hidden in the vehicle until we are inside the building. You will then break in and conduct your investigation dressed in the same clothes as Debbie. If anyone sees you they will mistake you for her but, since she will be with the client and me through the entire visit, such sightings will be discredited.

“You will have to make sure you leave no evidence of your having been there; no computer logs, no fingerprints, no appearance on security cameras. The skills to achieve that we can teach you. The rest requires a temperament very much like the one you have shown me these past two days.”

We arrived at a suite of rooms that were decorated to look like a small, comfortable apartment. Mr Pandasco indicated the bedroom and set about making some tea while I went to explore. The wardrobes were overfilled, mainly with skirts and dresses but also a few pairs of jeans and slacks. If this was Debbie’s taste it was very close to what mine might have been as a girl. I chose the cream blouse and navy blue skirt suit she had worn for interview the previous day, retrieved underwear and tights from a dresser drawer and dressed quickly. The clothes felt wonderful and fit like a glove. I wasn’t sure I needed the week to decide.

Mr Pandasco smiled broadly at my choice of clothing.

“You look almost as lovely as she did. A touch of makeup, a brush through your hair and I would think it were yesterday.

“Now I know this wasn’t exactly what you had in mind when you came for interview yesterday, and there is an obvious element of risk. You will be adequately compensated though, as if you need any more incentive than helping to keep this world safe. What do you say?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve done quite a few different things with my life, but I’ve never considered myself cut out for work like this.”

“Most of what you need you have in your temperament and years of experience. For the rest, my technology can give you the edge you need. Strength and agility you already have from the nanite treatment. Neural RNA remapping alongside proper training will quickly give you the skills you need, and a few additional gadgets, such as a subcutaneous neural computer interface, various non-lethal weapons and miscellaneous devices, all hidden in the little things that women carry around with them, will turn you into a one… er person army.

“I have a week to prove it to you if you’re game.”

“Do I have to stay in these rooms?”

“The only stipulation is that Debbie doesn’t see you. Most of the success of this venture relies on her genuine innocence, but as long as we monitor both your and her positions constantly and make sure you stay away from each other, there’s no reason you should have to stay hidden away. Apparently there are a few things you can do with makeup and hairstyle that will make you look different enough that most people won’t recognise you as her on casual observation.”

Now this future looked interesting. I sipped my tea as a faraway crept over me. For the first time in a very long time I found myself looking forward to the coming days with relish and hope.

-Fin-