The track on the floor curved through a thick metal door. As Flora’s assembly turned the corner, she could see a long rectangular set of machines lined up in front of her. A grid had been built over the arcane implements, connecting them together and making the whole works look something like a madman’s dream of a Tunnel of Love.
As Flora faced forward helplessly, unable to scream, her body frozen in place as much from the drug as from the straps holding her to the cart, she saw lights begin to blink on the machines, and she was pulled inexorably in. I didn’t do anything! she screamed inside, futilely. I did nothing wrong!
How could this happen to me?
The old man, feeling especially like an old man today, wearily put his glasses to side. He shut his eyes and sighed deeply. Reaching up, the tension plainly readable on his face, he dug gently at the corners of his eyes with a trembling forefinger and thumb. He leaned his head over the desk and heard the door to his right close loudly and very finally.
It isn’t fair, he thought, not for the first time that day. It just isn’t fair.
Someone knocked at the other door at the front of the study. The old man jerked up and looked at the clock on the wall, not immediately believing what he was seeing.
Already? It can’t be. But he saw it was. No mystery, either. He had just taken too long with his last appointment. It was only luck his niece hadn’t walked in while he was still talking with her aunt. Hardening himself, he resolved not to do so again. He had an unfortunately busy afternoon. He still had six meetings after this next one.
Quickly, the man sniffed softly and rubbed his face with a handkerchief. He took a deep cleansing breath and cleared his thoughts, the rehearsed words automatically coming to mind. He had used them often enough that morning, after all, and for most of his life for that matter, in one way or another. “Come in,” he said when he was ready.
He tried to look professional.
The door cracked open, and young Yvonne stuck her head in. Young, beautiful Yvonne.
Dammit, it just isn’t fair!
“You wanted to see me, Uncle Albert?”
“Yes, please. Come in and sit down.” The old man stood and met his youngest niece as she walked in. He gestured for her to sit down. As she did so, he gently closed the door behind them so they could have some privacy. Eighteen? he tried to remember. Nineteen, maybe? Yvonne had graduated from the expensive private school his brother had sent her sometime last year, he was sure, so she was probably eighteen, but he couldn’t recollect exactly. She still looked all of twelve to his eyes.
“I have some bad news, Yvonne,” he began softly as he returned around the back of his desk. Albert saw his niece’s chirpily happy expression change, and he made a concerted effort to see his brother’s daughter just as he would any other beautiful young woman.
“Is it my Dad?” she asked anxiously. “Is he O.K.?” Her face paled in sudden alarm. Her father had a heart condition. The doctors had said a second heart attack might be fatal.
“Your father’s fine,” Albert reassured her, lying smoothly. Honestly, his brother wasn’t doing well at all. None of them were, in fact, but he could hardly tell his niece that, could he? At least not that way. The truth would be revealed to her in its own fashion.
He tried to look at Yvonne objectively. It was difficult, the memories of the little girl she had been getting in the way of what he thought was a proper assessment, but he tried nonetheless. Ultimately, whether she was eighteen or nineteen really didn’t matter, he eventually thought. Either way, Yvonne was in the prime of her life, clear-skinned and lovely. Her dark hair was long and shined with vibrancy. She was a little short, perhaps, but Albert judged her overall figure well-proportioned. She would do well.
“The family has suffered a setback, Yvonne. I’m afraid we won’t be able to send you to that university in Switzerland as we had discussed.”
“But . . but you and Dad promised!” Anger replaced the fear she had felt just a second earlier. She became indignant, her voice suddenly strident. “All my friends are going there! I have to go!” She stood. Tears welled up in her eyes. They had always worked before.
Uncle Albert shook his head. “No. And it’s not just a question of money. I wish it were. Things are going to have to change around here.”
“That’s not fair. Dad said if I improved my grades I could go, and I did. You saw my graduation scores.” He hadn’t, but he assumed she had done better. “I have to go to Switzerland!”
Albert shook his head again. “No, I’m afraid not.”
“You and Dad promised! I did my part, now do your . . . .”
“Stop it!” Albert yelled at her, getting to his feet again. His niece shook with surprised and shrank back in her chair. She had never seen her uncle angry before. “I don’t need that attitude today, so don’t even start.” Uncle Albert suddenly looked disgusted with her, which hurt even worse than his anger. “Just . . . don’t.”
“It . . it’s the best school in the world, Uncle.” Yvonne was flustered. It was the only thing she could say. “It’s for my future.”
Albert pitied his niece, what was going to have to happen to her, but truly he saw her now as a spoiled child. Nothing had ever been denied her - not that the family had ever wanted or needed to - but he could see now the difficulty Yvonne had in accepting his pronouncement because of it. He sat back down.
“You have responsibilities, child,” he said softly, kindly. “The family comes first. That’s what you’ve always been taught, hasn’t it?” He saw her nod slowly.
“But . . but why?” Yvonne could hardly believe what her uncle was saying. Nobody had ever said something like this before. “What happened?” She began crying real tears.
Albert glanced at the clock over the mantle. He had time.
“Your father and I, and some of your other relatives in the business . . . we made a mistake recently.” Albert felt a lump in his throat as he spoke. “A serious mistake. We backed the wrong person in a . . . well, I suppose you’d call it a hostile takeover. She lost.”
Yvonne sniffed back tears. “You made a mistake,” she said, “and now I have to pay for it. Is that it? It’s not fair.”
Albert nodded agreement. “Yes, you’re right. It’s not fair.” He felt near tears himself.
“What’s going to happen? What’s going to change?” Yvonne couldn’t believe the family had lost all its money. That was simply impossible. What would happen to her?
Albert swallowed thickly. “I’m not sure yet. We . . the Board . . we’re still making arrangements. Paying penalties.” He put a hand to his face. “Did you know . . . know once we were a very prominent family in show business?”
Yvonne did actually but didn’t see how that had anything to do with what was going on with her. Her uncle reached into his lower desk drawer and pulled out a bottle and a pair of glasses. He poured them both a drink and offered one to her.
“Uncle, I don’t want a drink. I want to know what’s going on.”
“The Avatars once owned a fine circus,” Albert said. He didn’t look at his niece. “Many, many years ago. Over eight generations, from our native Greece to all the great capitals of Europe. We were once the best.”
“Uncle . . . Uncle Albert, I don’t understand . . .”
“But, then, we ran into financial problems. There was a war, between France and Prussia, and we lost everything almost in one day. And . . and so we made a deal.”
Albert opened his eyes. They were bright and shiny.
“We had to make a deal,” he continued thickly. “A person came to us, a very unusual person, and he offered us a way out.”
“Uncle. Listen to me. I want to know what’s going on.” Yvonne reached out and grasped one of his hands in hers. “Please,” she begged.
“Drink you drink, and I’ll tell you. Here, we’ll make a toast.” He clinked his glass gently against hers. “To the family,” he said, somewhat bitterly. He sipped, and Yvonne, after a moment’s hesitation, reached for her glass and did the same.
“It cost a great deal,” Albert went on, drink in hand. “That deal. The deal cost us a great deal, ha hmm.” Uncontrollably, he giggled softly. Yvonne just stared. “I’m sorry. The deal . . yes. Well, we paid it off, eventually, and the Spokesman was happy with our service.”
“Who is the Spokesman?” She was getting angry again, though she remained fearful. Yvonne had never seen her uncle like this before. She wondered if he was going senile. If he was, then maybe what he had said about Switzerland was simply wrong.
Albert sniffed. “The Avatar family owns a share in the company G. Limited. We make collectibles. We make fine mannequins. It doesn’t sound like a very prestigious business, but it is. It truly is. G. Limited incorporates all the elements our forefathers found so intriguing in the Spokesman’s offer.” He hesitated a moment. “But we never actually controlled G. Limited. The Avatars are, in the end, just hired help.”
He waved his hand about. Yvonne tried to focus on what he saying, but it wasn’t making any sense.
“Even the founder of the company, the late and lamented Mr. Fip, was
really only hired help. We recently had a chance to expand our fortunes,
our hold on the company, but we failed. The casino in Las Vegas turned
out to be a complete failure.”
Yvonne didn’t understand where the conversation was going. She put her glass down. Nothing was making a lot of sense to her suddenly. She blinked rapidly.
Her uncle was getting fuzzy.
She blinked again, but it didn’t help. The room began to slowly spin. Something was in the drink, she thought. Her mind felt clumsy, awkward. She tried to get up and failed.
Albert looked at his niece fondly, crying openly now. “The Spokesman came back, you see. He wasn’t supposed to, but he did. And, after some discussion, we made another deal, one that would allow us to continue on as before. More or less.”
The old man got up, not feeling at all any of the effects of the drug now paralyzing his niece, and went to the door to the inner hall. He opened it, and a pair of waiting G. Limited employees came in. He motioned silently to Yvonne. When one of them asked a question, Albert replied softly, “A mannequin, or so I was instructed.”
A few minutes later they were gone. For the fourth time that day the door to Albert’s right closed with utterly finality. Albert returned to his desk, put his head down upon it, and resumed massaging his weary eyes.
He guessed he had at least an hour before his next meeting.
The trip to the factory was a short one. The girl’s heart was pounding hard enough for the retainer carrying her to hear it. The sound was low but thick, like a drum covered by a large blanket. He paused for a moment, readjusted her weight in his arms, then resumed his normal pace. The other retainer, a small man in front of him, began working with the harness assembly, a thin metal column from which four curved arms extended. A number of leather straps were linked through holes in the metal. The smaller man undid them one by one. At his feet, a line track was set into the floor.
Behind him, his partner carried to the girl to a low couch. He laid her out comfortably, then set about briskly and professionally removing her clothes. He used a pair of scissors. It was easier than trying to bother with all those buttons and zippers. He had her down to her underwear in just a matter of minutes. They were black and lacy.
The man grunted, surprised.
“Did you say somethin’, Les?” the other man said. He had the harness completely open and was waiting.
“No, not really. I was just kinda shocked seein’ what Ms. Avatar was wearin’, that’s all.”
Les snipped through them and lifted the bra and panties away. He hummed casually under his breath. The girl was frightened to death, but his own pulse was normal. The days when he got excited just by seeing and handling a naked woman were long gone. He and Ray were almost reaching retirement age, in fact. They had worked for G. Limited a long time. He put the scissors down, scooped his hands underneath the girl’s still form, and lifted her up.
Ray looked over at the other two. “So. They’re black,” he noticed.
As Les approached, Ray took hold of the girl’s feet. Together they began strapping her into the harness. The metal arms were adjusted, and the girl’s wrists and ankles were firmly clamped down. Another set of straps went around her waist and forehead.
“What’d you think she’d be wearing?”
“I don’t know,” Les said. “I just wasn’t expectin’ black undies, that’s all.” He bent down and adjusted a plate underneath the subject’s feet. “She’s an Avatar.”
Ray stood back and nodded, satisfied with their work. He made sure Les was clear of the machinery, then reached over and flipped a small lever on the junction box beside him. There was an electrical rumble, and with a sudden jolt the harness carrying Yvonne Avatar began moving out onto the factory floor.
“She’s a girl. Don’t matter if she’s an Avatar or not.”
Les shrugged. “Still seems funny, they runnin’ things and all, all this time.”
The watched the girl roll in.
“Just be glad you ain’t one of ‘em, that’s all I can say,” Ray said sagely. “At least not today.” He checked his watch. “Come on, we got another one waiting.”
“Okay. Beer after work?”
Yvonne couldn’t fight. She couldn’t budge an inch. Helplessly, she rolled along the track as it curved through a thick metal door and into the main structure.
Stacked to either side of her stood row after row of glass cylinders. Some were broken, and all were gathering dust. For some reason, their very emptiness disturbed Yvonne. Ahead, a large machine awaited her, the lights on its sides blinking in sequence. Overhead, thick metal girders helped to hold the gigantic contraption in place.
It was like rolling into the mouth of a tunnel. The only thing missing was the light of the on-coming train. Yvonne couldn’t even blink anymore. All she could do was watch.
Help me! she screamed mentally. Why is this happening to me?
The harness assembly passed a first metal arch. Suddenly Yvonne was inside the machine, and a cold, wet sensation startled her. A spray device had activated and begun misting her, starting at her feet. The sudden stimulation would have made her yell had she still a voice to do so. Instead, all she could do was endure it.
The spray worked its way up her body, inundating her with cold liquid. As she continued to move forward, a second metal arm reached down from the ceiling, and another spray device deployed. Its head approached closer than the other one had. The tip of the sprayer hovered less than an inch away from Yvonne’s skin. Where it sprinkled, a thick white foam spread. Between the two robotic limbs working on her, Yvonne was soon covered head to toe in milky-white suds. Her lathered skin began to tingle, not completely unpleasantly.
The foam covered her eyes but didn’t burn them in the slightest. The tingling sensation steadily increased, but Yvonne could no longer see what was ahead of her.
A third repetition of spraying finally cleared her vision. A metal arm glided down the young girl’s body, and a warm jet of fluid followed in its wake. The foam began to dissolve. Although she couldn’t quite see it, her head immobilized both by the strap as by the powerful drug still in her system, with the bubbles went all of Yvonne’s hair. She came through the second metal arch as smooth as the day she had been born, bare from scalp to sole.
A series of heaters began working, the blowing air quickly drying her off just as a fourth metal arm reached down. This one sprayed a strange, sparkling reddish mist. A shudder passed through Yvonne the moment the mist touched her, sending a chemical pulse through her nerves seemingly straight into the pleasure center of her brain.
Her climax was immediate, earth-shattering in its power and rapidity.
Ohmigod! she thought. Wha . . what’s happening!? A second wave of ecstasy crashed through her. The sprayer automatically made sure that every inch of the subject’s flesh was dampened. Again, a series of heaters activated. The warm air only stretched out the impression of pleasure. Yvonne never noticed how startlingly clear her skin became, as if the orgasmic mist had erased every birthmark, freckle, or other imperfection she might once have had. Her body glowed in its utter, extremely artificial flawlessness.
Wha . . what’s next? she managed to question. It was getting hard to think.
Ahead, a thin veil of almost-transparent plastic lowered in front of the track, held in place by amazingly flexible metal limbs. As the track dragged her forward, the veil was lifted and folded around the harness column, wrapping Yvonne in a warm embrace.
Shears effortlessly sliced away extraneous material. Secondary arms stretched out to gently heat and mold the polymer in place. Inside a matter of seconds, the young girl was coated in a thin, almost skin-tight layer of plastic. The properties of this alien material began to operate almost at once. The pleasant afterglow of her orgasm seemed to increase, building in intensity again, the sensation heightened by the odd yet delightful feeling of being so very tight, her body so sleek and rubbery smooth.
When Yvonne saw the next metal arm approach, she knew what was going to happen, and she welcomed it. The reddish mist sent surge after surge of delight through her overstimulated body. Slowly, beautifully, her mind languorously dissolved, the throes of continual ecstasy melting away all her worries and cares. Meanwhile, the thin plastic coating enclosing the girl’s increasingly oblivious body began its own liquefaction, fusing slowly into her pores and bonding with the flesh underneath.
Plastic became flesh, and flesh became plastic.
Secondary veils were lowered as the Yvonne-figure continued her passage
through the machine. Each subsequent coating was accompanied by a
shower of unearthly red mist. Ten minutes later, and some twenty
chemical treatments, a lovely, gleaming new mannequin emerged from the
machine’s far end, the body still glistening wetly.
A pair of cosmetic technicians, their orange protective clothing preventing any accidental plastification, gently unhooked the Yvonne-figure from her harness and moved her to the same drying chamber where Cousins Angelique and Alfredo were waiting. Had she still the capacity, the mannequin might have recognized and greeted her Aunt Flora in the stand next to hers, or perhaps she might have said something to her younger sister across the hall or to her other cousins as the day passed slowly into night. But she didn’t, and neither did they, nor did any of them care that they didn’t, or couldn’t.
Eternal afterglow is a wonderful preoccupation.
The technicians returned the next day to install flesh-colored plugs in various nether channels and employ quick-drying acrylic paints to carefully touch up blank eyes and still lips. The mannequin they fondly remembered as Yvonne ended up in a department store in Des Moines. The store manager there agreed later with Albert Avatar - who had managed to retain his position at G. Limited - that the new line had turned out very well.
Albert paused during the conversation but eventually agreed that this
was so. They speculated about which of several stores would eventually
Back at the factory, the technicians continued to work, and the drying
room slowly filled to capacity . . . blank staring eyes gazing blindly
and blissfully at one another, not one wondering in the least why they
were there, and none appreciating the complexities of a business arrangement
that allowed them to remain in a business they loved.