The Deception of Choice. Part 11. Chapters 33, 34, & 35.

Synopsis:

David arrives at the Finishing Centre. So much more freedom there. If he can just hold true to his resolve, all will surely be well. Or will it? Life is never quite so straightforward. Particularly not for David. And freedom is anyhow only relative. "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage;"

Story:

Because David's tale is slow in its serialisation, and long in the telling, it was suggested to me that the following character list might help in jogging reader's memories. Hope it does.

Previously encountered Characters in order of appearance/mention.

David. The hero whose adventures we follow. Generally referred to by others as Sophie. ‘Recruited’ and then subjected to months in ‘Reception’ before progressing to the ‘Holding Wing’ where the subsequent action, apart from his stay in the hospital facility, has taken place. Now ‘promoted’ to the Finishing Centre

Anne. One of Laura’s charges. She was already at the Holding Wing before David’s arrival. Her background is that of a boy saved from drug abuse and social problems by one of the charitable organisations under the aegis of the Venumar foundation. Now ‘promoted’ to the Finishing Centre

Laura. David’s mentor in the ‘Holding Wing’. Her other charges originally being Anne and Emma. Daisy subsequently replacing the latter

Emma. Was another of Laura’s charges, but a genetic girl. She, (with Christine, Daisy and Alice still in the Holding Wing), represents the other, outwardly charitable, function of the Holding Wing, which is the education and training of girls coming from under-privileged and troubled backgrounds. Now graduated from the Holding Wing returning as a junior staff member

Dr. Francesca Pinecoffin. One of the three interviewers, albeit in a minor role, when David passed from Reception to the Holding Wing, being christened Sophie en route

Helen Vanbrugh. Grace de Messembry's close confidante on whom she appears to exercise a moderating influence. She was at David's first interview when he was named Sophie. It is to be assumed that she has director status in the Venumar Foundation. She facilitated David’s move to The Finishing Centre, offering to use her influence with the Principal there that he may receive a special non-hormonal dispensation.

Mona. Was at the Holding wing when david arrived. Moved to The Finishing centre before him. Was originally sponsored by Indian businessmen she herself being of Indian ethnicity

Dr. Victoria Walters. A surgeon in the employ of The Venumar Foundation. She was responsible for his recovery after his knifing. She was originally given a passing mention in Grace de Messembry’s ‘surgical intervention’ threat in Chapter 14.

Coralie. The latest ‘recruit’ to feminisation. Tried to knife Grace de Messembry but the attempt was instinctively foiled by David. As a result of this attack she passed a fortnight in Rehabilitation. She shares David’s background, having been forcibly recruited and conditioned at Reception before arriving at the Holding Wing were she currently remains.

Dr. Tabatha O’Neill. Staff. Psychiatrist/Hypnotherapsit

It should be remembered that the plot unfolds through the eyes of David. The descriptions of the people above conform to David’s understanding of their function, character, etc. Use of words such as ‘seemingly’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘apparent’ are because the facts, or surmises, can only be as David understands them. The reader has no other authority from whom he or she can seek verification.

Chapter 33.

He was above all conscious of how different the sensation was. Around his legs, around his calves and thighs. The coolness that eddied intimately, caressing him with its freshness. On the roof garden the glass surround had acted as a wind break. But now, for the first time in a summer dress, he was walking unsheltered in the open air.

He and Anne, with only Laura for company, walking along a footpath over short cropped grass that still bore traces of the night's dew. No guards or wardresses. Only Laura and only she because she said that she would show them the way and introduce them, and anyway she had to call into the office herself about some expenses that were due to her.

The footpath climbed fairly steeply which made it a challenge for David even though his heels were a sensible 2”. There was a perfectly good tarmac road that goose necked off to their right but the footpath was more direct and the turf pleasanter to walk upon. Both footpath and road ended behind them at the large square building that lay in the dip. Only the front and one side could be seen now, as all three, pausing for breath, looked back. The still low sun reflected back from the glass panels atop the visible side. It must be the roof garden. Out of sight, was the central garden of the building onto whose path Olive had fallen; the fourth side was bounded by the wall that David could now see extended on each side to form the boundary of the property.

A false crest and then, panting slightly, they reached the top of the rise and saw the whole estate spread before them. It was huge. Parkland that seemed to go on for ever. David could see a couple of flocks of Jacob's and, yet further to the right where the ground fell away again into the loop of a river, a scattering of fallow deer. In front of them was a higgledy-piggledy group of buildings. Outbuildings that clustered behind the back of a curious amalgam of stone and brick, of ancient and modern, of Queen Anne and utility.

“That,” said Laura, “is Helgarren Hall. Your home for the foreseeable future.”

“It looks a bit odd,” giggled Anne, “Not very .... well .... tidy.”

“It originally was the home of the Earls of Athelstarn. For generations until interbreeding overtook them and they died out in the 1890s. Then it had a chequered history with assorted owners who were either Victorian industrialists, brewers, cotton magnates, that sort of thing, or decaying gentry financially refreshed by marriage to American dollars. Then during the war the Ministry of Defence requisitioned it and established a Research Institute here. Nobody is quite sure what they were researching. It was all highly hush hush. A sort of pharmaceutical Bletchley Park.”

“They had promised to return it to its rightful owners of course, but whether they ever would have done is beside the point as the owner himself died, and both his sons did the decent thing and were killed in action with the Desert Rats in North Africa. Anyway by that time the Germans had got wind of it and bombed it, two direct hits did what generations of death watch beetle and dry rot had failed to do. The destroyed bits were rebuilt in a hurry so as to get the whole thing fully operational again. Aesthetics weren't a primary issue. Modern annexes just sprouted out of it willy-nilly.”

They were now close enough for David to see that it had once indeed been a gem of Queen Anne architecture; parts of it still were. The rest could most charitably be described as functional modern. Ramblingly interesting hotch-potch sufficed as an overall classification.

“I am surprised the heritage and the conservation people allowed it.” Anne said.

“During the war they weren't asked. And afterwards, well it was still MoD. property and there was always one natural emergency or other they could cite. I suppose basically though it had been so irrevocably ruined during the war that there was nothing worth saving. Nobody could rebuild the original. And then about 6 years ago when the MoD could no longer find a half convincing reason to hang on to it, the Venumar Foundation took it on a long lease. They got it for a song, all 1,200 acres of it. So cheap in fact that the tabloids tried to make a scandal over it, but the Great British Public's attention was at the time focussed on another cause célá¨bre involving a Minister of the Crown, a rent boy, a prostitute and an Alsatian dog, all in one bed, and naturally weren't interested at just another example of Governmental financial naivety, so the scandal died at birth.”

The footpath they were on forked right to the front of the house where it joined the road that had arrived from the right and which then straightened through an avenue of lime trees towards a distant gate house. To the right the ground sloped past a sports complex comprising a scatter of pavilions, an athletics' oval bounded by a track, tennis courts, and a cricket ground, and then towards a river. To the left David could see a continuation of the wall that had bounded the building they had left, and which then incorporated the gate house before apparently ceasing in a small tower a couple of hundred yards further on. In front of the old house the view stretched away without apparent obstacle, as far as the eye could see, towards a small village a couple of miles away.

David thought about just running. Running away from it all. Just running. The river was not unswimmable, the wall not unscaleable. But he didn't need to surmount either. In front there was nothing but open country.

Perhaps Laura, not fully convinced of his conversion to femininity, read his thoughts. Whatever the reason, she resumed her one woman guided tour, gesturing towards the open countryside in front of them.

“The original landscaping of the parkland was done by Charles Bridgeman and there you see, or rather can't see, a classic example of a ha-ha. One of his very first apparently and a little unusual in that the wall is nearly 10' high and on the outer side of the trench, reputedly because the 8th. Earl had some rare deer he didn't want to escape. Especially designed to give this uninterrupted vista from the front of the house.”

It didn't matter anyway David thought. They weren't so trusting as to just let Anne and he walk free as air, with only Laura as company, without some precautions having been taken. They would be under surveillance, and he would be rounded up before he had gone a couple of hundred yards, let alone before he could try to climb walls. And even if they were asleep, he had not run for over eight months now. And he had never run in heels, albeit only 2” ones. Nor in a skirt, which if not strictly pencil, was tight enough to restrict even his walking stride.

David had a momentary inner vision of him stripping his dress off to climb the wall and fleeing like a headless chicken clad in bra and panties. And there was nothing in his handbag save for a small lace hankie and a selection of lipsticks, assorted cosmetics and the obligatory tampon. 'Just for appearances' sake darling' as Laura had explained. Certainly no money. And in which direction would he run? And Laura could not be expected just to stand there and cheer him on!

And yet .... for weeks he had dreamed of this. Of being out here. Of escaping. And now? But he needed the right moment. A moment when the odds were on his side. Not now when they would recapture him within a few minutes. And now he had so much to lose. He was no longer so desperate. Even if he didn't run, there was hope. A hope he dare not risk. He had far, far more to lose than to squander it on some quixotic gesture.

Better by far to wait. To prepare. To plan. He would need to glean more as to where he was, in which direction he should head once outside the walls, across the river. Preferably with some money, preferably.....

And by then it was too late. In truth had always been too late. They negotiated a car park at the side and stepped out onto a flagged approach to the quite beautiful Queen Anne façade that the Luftwaffe had spared over sixty years previously.

Inside it was deliciously cool and smelt of old timber, beeswax and chrysanthemums. The latter dominated a reception desk behind which sat a girl whose angular features, thick horn rimmed glasses with upswept sides, and severely drawn back hair, contrasted somewhat oddly with the well rounded contours of those parts of the body that could be seen through the flowers.

Laura evidently knew her. “Hi Angela! Meet Anne and Sophie who are on the new intake at the Finishing Centre.”

Angela moved her head slightly to allow her line of sight to bypass a singularly large bloom.

“Hi girls!” she said. “Glad to meet you. Welcome to Helgarren Hall. I just know you will just love your stay here. Everybody does!”

She produced two folders from a tray on her desk. On top of each was pinned a name tag.

“Sophie? .... Anne?”

As they obediently reached for them, she continued. “The tags to be worn during working hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We all have to. All except the high-ups that is. Avoids confusion. All will be explained in Dr. Pinecoffin's welcome briefing in the conservatory at 11 o'clock, in about ....” Angela glanced at her watch, “.... fifty minutes time.”

Laura was already moving away, past the reception desk and into a broad corridor that lay behind the centrepiece grand double staircase that swept in two impressive wings to the floor above. They hurried after her, clutching their folders.

“I'll get you settled in first.” The words drifted back over her shoulder, her heels clattering on the flagstones as she led Anne and Sophie past the entrances to various subsidiary corridors meandering into the maze that was the old part of the house, finally emerging into a courtyard at the rear. A cobbled area encompassing a sizeable square of lawn, at the centre of which dolphins and naked, rubenesque, young ladies, spouting water from divers orifices, vied for the attention of an impressively endowed and equally naked Neptune.

The building at the far side boasted an impressive arched gateway and David thought that it must at one time have been an indoor exercise and dressage area, but on either side there were the brightly painted doors of half a dozen terraced one-up one-down houses, which must have been converted from the original stables and grooms' accommodation.

“Pretty aren't they, ”smiled Laura, “you two are in numbers 8 and 9 in the far right hand corner.”

Together David and Anne followed her into the nearest of the two little houses. A bedroom and bathroom upstairs. Downstairs a single room, with a small kitchen at one end, a dining table and then a small sitting room area. Fully and tastefully equipped and all immaculately clean.

“All your things should have already arrived by now. You just need to unpack and find new homes for them. Make yourself a cup of tea if you want. If you need anything just let me know.”

“The meeting in the conservatory....?”

“I will be back to take you both there. But you have half an hour to make yourself at home, to sort things out, to explore a little if you wish. But be ready in half an hour. You don't want to keep Dr. Pinecoffin waiting.”

“Who is she, another doctor?” David's old fears surfaced.

“Wait and see little Miss Impatient. That is what the meeting is for. But no she isn't a medic. Rather a Phd. in some esoteric subject .... Oh and she has a prestigious MBA. And her name is Francesca. She is in overall charge of the various research groups and companies here at Helgarren Hall, including the Finishing Centre.” She grinned at them. “Especially the Finishing Centre in your case darlings.”

Alone in No.9, David hung up dresses, skirts and various frilly feminine fripperies, carefully folded and laid into drawers intimate garments lovingly crafted from silk, satin, and lace. Stacked shoes and arranged an array of cosmetics and perfumes on his dressing table. Depilatories, unguents, creams for every imaginable purpose where displayed in his bathroom cabinet. Together with the orange an purple pills that Laura had given him. Hormones to facilitate his ascent into femininity.

The Oral Gratification Training Aid had not been forgotten. Nor had its accompanying box of cartridges. David held them in his hand. Perhaps he should do it now. Get his daily exercise over with. It would be opportune and he needed to ....but no he hadn't the time. Only ten minutes to Laura's return and he had to redo his make up. Must look his best for the meeting. Must make the right impression on Dr. Pinecoffin. But still ...... David found himself looking at the artificial penis with something approaching .....No he just hadn't the time. It would do later. Must do later. Yes must do later.

He sat down at the dressing table and began critically to repair the all but imaginary ravages suffered in the walk across from the Holding Wing.

Laura and Anne found him there. Together they walked back across the square into the house and along corridors to a large conservatory in which were period armchairs in a semi-circle facing a matching chaise longue. Four girls were already there, standing looking out of the windows onto a pleasant, well tended, garden.

David felt Laura's hand on the small of his back, urging him across the threshold.

“I'll leave now. Don't worry. I'll drop in later in the week to see how you are getting on. As will Emma, I know.”

And with that she was gone. Behind them David heard a murmured greeting as she passed two other arrivals in the passageway, and then he and Anne were inside the room, hastened forward by the need to make room for the two newcomers. The girls at the window turned towards them in greeting. Two pretty Chinese girls whose name tags proclaimed them to be Xia He and Shu Fang, and two westerners, Lisa and Marie-Helene.

Soft voices, the flow of skirts, perfumes that swirled and mingled. And then swirled and mingled again as the latest two edged passed Anne and David, to form an expectant, utterly feminine, grouping. One of these last was exquisite in a bright orange sari, the other was also from the Indian sub-continent but wore an elegant classic black dress. Their tags bore the names Akhila and Farhana.

None looked remotely masculine. Nor did any gesture, or movement or nuance of behaviour. betray the fact that they might have once been, in some respects still were ....

Not for a moment would it occur to anyone to doubt their femininity. Unless one had been schooled in the same way of course and knew what to look for. Knew where perfection still beckoned. Knew what was yet to be achieved. As they all did. David included. David knew and knew at the same time that he also was outwardly delightfully feminine, indistinguishable, in that at least, from the others.

Everyone was on their best behaviour. Cautiously polite, making social small talk. All waiting, all apprehensive, all wondering.

And then a clear low voice behind David said.

“Sophie my dear. I don't expect you remember me, but I have heard such a lot about you since that first, all-too-short, acquaintance.”

Dr. Francesca Pinecoffin was amongst them.

The weather had broken. Rain first spattered, then drummed, on the glass roof. Distant thunder growled at the lightening that flashed over the parkland. But the darkness that had invaded the room could not dim the beauty of the blonde hair that fell down on Dr. Pinecoffin's shoulders. A light golden shade to match the tight grained wood of her name.

David remembered her. The third woman at his christening interview. With whom Helen Vanbrugh claimed close friendship. With whom she had arranged David's special circumstances.

“Yes of course I do Dr. Pinecoffin. Remember you, I mean. And Miss Helen too has spoken of you.”

It was the nearest he could go. The nearest to reminding her of what had been promised.

“Indeed and she of you dear. I look forward to getting to know you so very much better, I hear such golden opinions of you from everyone and I am sure that you will flourish and be happy here. My door is always open.” Her smiled washed over him as she turned to Anne.

“Surely you must be Anne? But such a lovely girl! Grace and Helen are quite ecstatic about your progress dear, and Mona is quite beside herself at the thought of meeting you again.”

Dr. Pinecoffin moved on, exchanging brief greetings with all the girls, as she progressed to the chaise longue, where she perched, gesturing with an eloquent hand to the others to do likewise on the surrounding armchairs.

It all seemed so unreal. Perfect manners in surroundings of gracious living. No coercion or suggestion that anything was amiss, no hint that anyone was here under duress.

Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Apart from the fact that it seemed to good to be true. Life was never quite this civilised.

And apart from the fact that he was male. Admittedly appearances were against him And admittedly everyone else would deny it. And admittedly he himself would deny it if asked. Would have no option but to deny it.

It all seemed so unreal.

Everyone else was leant forward in rapt attention listening to Dr. Pinecoffin. David's posture was identical but he was wrapped in the unreality of it all, and only odd phrases filtered through to float around in his consciousness.

“....will I know be such assets to our community .... I set such great store in a happy atmosphere here .... many employees working .... research laboratories etc. .... social opportunities .... staff facilities open to all .... restaurants and dining rooms .... tennis, cricket, squash..... just one section .... working towards social good....”

David's mind grappled with the words, but dreaming unreality claimed him again as the soft, persuasive voice droned on.

“.... emphasis on feminine virtues and styles .... dress behave accordingly .... tuition .... help in achieving .... progress closely monitored .... time outside hours your own .... rewards of achieving one's ambition .... the ultimate goal .... building a new and rewarding life .... embracing opportunities .... privileged ....lucky .... will understand need to initially confine .... stay within estate boundaries .... so much to do in the wider community here ...so much to contribute .... and eventually ....”

David listened to the thunder, found himself counting the seconds between the lightening flash and the noise. It seemed so much more immediate in the glass conservatory. So much closer, more relevant in a way.

“.... And whilst I have already met Sophie and feel I already know Anne ....”

The name, his name, jerked him back to the present attentive world.

“.... through her time at the Holding Wing here, I am sure that in no time at all we will all, all of us meeting here for the first time, all grow together in mutual understanding and respect. And that you all will enjoy your stay here with us, making solid friendships that will endure when your days here are just a treasured memory.”

“And that is really all I wanted to say girls. Thank you for so patiently listening to me when I am sure that you can't wait to be get to know one another, and to explore your new homes and all the facilities that Helgarren Hall has to offer. Someone will be along in a moment to take you to lunch. After that the week end is your own apart from the medical interviews that I mentioned. You will find details of your individual appointments in the folder that you were given when you arrived. They will start at 2 o'clock sharp so please check your appointment time immediately after lunch.”

A warm professional smile and Dr. Pinecoffin moved back amongst them, taking of each a gracious leave, with a promise that she would be looking forward to seeing them again soon, and that if they were in any doubt about anything, just anything at all, the staff were here to help them, and that she herself would always be on hand to allay whatever fears might trouble their pretty little heads.

“My door is always open,” she confided to each and everyone of them. “At any time.”

The staff restaurant was up-market self service. A large, cheerful room with the serving counter down one side. Their guide, who turned out to be one of the cooks, led them through the food selection, handing over entitling luncheon vouchers, a further supply of which would, they were assured, be delivered to them later. The room was beginning to fill up, but they were led to a large table near the windows which had a prominent 'Reserved' notice displayed on it.

“Just because it is your first day,” their guide explained, “normally its a free-for-all and you can sit wherever you want, or can find, a place.”

More people were now streaming in. Both men and women, groups entering and splitting up, friends greeting each other.

“It's a lot quieter for dinner of course. Most of the offices and labs only work nine till five and most staff go home then, although there are exceptions. That leaves mostly the evening staff running the complex and you Finishing Centre girls, your intake and the seniors of course. So in the evenings we normally blank this part off with space dividers. A lot cosier, otherwise it is like eating in a barn.”

The others, apart from the certain shyness to be expected of newcomers anywhere, seemed to take it all in their stride, but David had difficulty in coming to terms with it. He felt terribly self conscious and rather disoriented. It was the first time in months, the first time as Sophie, that he had been exposed to other people, people moreover who seemed to be perfectly normal, in a perfectly normal working environment, living out a normal routine working existence. People, male and female. And he was sitting amongst them, dressed as a girl, acting as a girl, to all intents and purposes a girl. And none of them seemed to notice or think it was odd. If any should catch his eye they just smiled, a welcoming, reassuring, smile that recognised him as a newcomer to their society.

He wondered why he didn't stand up and shout at them.

'My name is David Jackson and I am a man. Not a girl! Please help me! Please I shouldn't be here. I am here against my will. Being forced into womanhood! Please help me!'

If he did what would they do? What had they been told about him? About him and his companions at this reserved table by the window? And about the other boy/girls lunching in the rooms? The other boy/girls at anonymous tables, perhaps sitting next to, friends with, indistinguishable from, those ordinary people doing everyday jobs here? What would they do if he told them, screamed the truth at them ....

'I am a man'

And he knew beyond certainty that they would studiously ignore him. Or at most look away embarrassed, wishing him to be silent, willing him not to make a scene. And he knew. Knew that they would believe he was just one of the new intake of the voluntary girls-to-be, getting hysterical, over excited perhaps at the prospect of realising her dream. Perhaps the lab workers, the scientists, amongst them would exchange knowing glances with those others already transitioning here. Forgiving him his outburst, making allowances for him, knowing the stress he must be under now he was on the brink of fulfilment.

“Finish your coffee Sophie dear.” Anne's voice in his ear. “We must get back to check our medical appointment times.”

He looked down at his coffee cup in surprise. An empty plate beside it on which there was the debris of a meal. He could not remember eating. Had had no sensation of taste.

The others at his table were stirring, rising. He drained his coffee.

“Yes Anne of course.” And then they were threading their way through the other tables to the door, down corridors and scampering out, through the rain, to their new homes.

The folder contained maps of both Helgarren Estate and of the old Hall and its various annexes. There were notes on staff activities and facilities and even invitations to join various clubs and staff societies. Even a sheet detailing forthcoming attractions which ranged from a display of vintage cars to an evening concert by a string quintet. It was all so matter of fact. So ordinary. A world removed from the atmosphere at the Holding Wing. And a whole galaxy from that of Reception. They were apparently to be treated just as any other member of staff who worked there.

The only difference was that they were not allowed outside the boundaries of the Estate, although even this restriction was qualified by a 'without obtaining prior permission from the Principal's office' rider.

The 'Course Curriculum' covered the same subjects as those subjects already studied at the Holding Wing, but there was more free time and more discretionary use of such and of the auxiliary subjects to be taken. The tutors were the same though and Dr. Tabatha's name appeared at regular intervals on his time table. Even Laura's name although without a specific title of job description. Just her name and a telephone number with a note that if she, Sophie, had any personal worries or concerns she was always there for her.

And finally a small folder labelled 'Medical File'. Inside there were some medical pamphlets and charts dealing with hormones and the possible side effects that their ingestion might trigger; together with one giving all the information David did not wish to know about breast prostheses and adhesives, inserts and hormonal options.

There was also a map showing the location of the Medical Centre together with a schedule of weekly medical appointments.

The first one was at 2 o'clock that day. In twenty minutes time. With Dr. Victoria Walters.

Somehow it was reassuring. The devil you knew was always preferable. A stranger would have been worse. It was irrational but he dreaded seeing that look in other peoples' eyes. That look that was a sneer because he was a man masquerading as a woman. Albeit that it was not his choice. Doubly irrational because he had never yet seen it. But he felt he would. That next time, or sometime soon, he would, should perhaps, see it in a stranger's eyes.

He redid his make up, tidied his hair, examined himself before the mirror. And, pursing his lips, gave a little moue of approval. He looked good. All the work was coming together, paying off. He was really quite... well...pretty. As Laura, Anne, Dr. Tabatha had all told him, if he was to be a woman, it was better to be an attractive, pretty one. Not that he was to be one of course, not now he knew what he must do, but as a temporary measure it was still important to do his best. Essential indeed that he succeeded in convincing them of his pleasure in his new identity.

He blew a kiss at his reflection, and locking his door behind him, scurried out back across the square towards the Hall.

The Medical Centre was in an annexe accessed by a short covered walkway. There he was welcomed by a nurse who with a capable professional air measured him, weighed him, checked reflexes, eyesight, hearing, lung capacity; noting down figures, ticking boxes, on innumerable forms held on a clipboard.

She seemed oblivious to the fact that he was stripped first down to slip, stockings, shoes, panties and bra, then progressively to stockings, shoes, panties and bra, finally standing before her in stockings, shoes and panties only, his false breasts perking proud without their disguising bra.

She exuded an air of having seen it all before. Many times. David was less embarrassed than he had initially envisaged. Or was until ....

“Now your panties Sophie please.” The Caribbean lilt dispassionate.

“My panties? Is that necessary?”

“I wouldn't ask otherwise. Please hurry dear.”

David could feel the blood coursing to his cheeks and he bent and slid his panties down one stocking leg and then the other. He looked over her head. Around the room, anywhere to avoid eye contact as he felt her hands grasp his penis, stretch it, the cold plastic of a ruler alongside it.

“Now I need the corresponding measurement when erect. Shall I do it, or would you feel more comfortable arousing yourself?” Clinical, detached.

“Myself please .... I mean I would prefer .... I feel inhibited.”

“Behind the screen there ... some magazines and DVDs .... to help your inhibitions, but don't be all day Sophie. We mustn't keep Dr. Walters waiting....“

For the first time David thought he detected a flaw in her professional boredom. The first suggestion that she sometimes enjoyed her work. It didn't help him.

“You will need these Sophie.”

She handed David two containers resembling large test tubes. One, the larger was opaque, the other, narrower but longer, with a curious bulbous end..

“When you have finally overcome your inhibitions, you need to let the final stage of the erection take place inside this tube, allowing it to maintain its engorged state for 2 minutes. This will give us a record of your measurements. You can then withdraw it and bring yourself to orgasm, collecting your sperm in the second vessel. Please ensure that all sperm is thus collected. No sloppy coitus interruptus hastiness! It is important that we have a full measure to record volume and sperm count.”

David turned and nearly fell as he stepped with one foot on his discarded panties still hanging round his other ankle.

The nurse tut tutted behind him. “More haste less speed Sophie. You should take more care of such pretty things. Now go and have naughty sexy thoughts about some young studs and what they might do to you.”

Behind the screen David sat, his cheeks burning. Naked apart from stockings and shoes. His sexual libido at an all time low.

“And do hurry up dear, we haven't got all day,” the disembodied voice taunted him. “I am nipping next door to give Dr. Walters your notes but will be back in a few minutes when I expect you to have some news for me.”

David seized his flaccid member despondently. It lay there in his hand disinterestedly. He thrust a DVD into the machine, opened one of the magazines and riffled through it. The DVD whirred into life. Two attractive girls going for a film test. The story would have been trite if it hadn't been non existent. A man appeared; suggestions, promises were made. One of the girls was sweet talked into removing her bra .... Whether it was the sight of her tits or a reluctant response to his fondling David felt his penis begin to stir, to come alive, to show interest.

Opened at random the cartoon story in the magazine followed what seemed similar lines. An exceptionally well endowed man. Impressively erect had under some miraculous pretext succeeded in persuading a girl of astounding naivety, whose breast development had plainly outstripped any corresponding brain activity, to stroke his cock for reasons which remained unclear.

His own flesh responded. Thickening, slowly at first, then stiffening and raising itself upwards, upwards, thickening. Desire spreading along its length, pervading it, all his feelings of lust. Pure and simple lust, growing deep seated in his cock, yearning upwards. He slid the larger tube down over it. It moved easily down, already treated with a thick gel, it seemed to welcome him, seemed almost to draw his prick inside itself, hungry for him.

On the little screen in front of him the second girl in true competitive spirit was also stripping, slowly, lingeringly, temptingly, whilst the first one, now clad only in panties, stockings and 5”heels, had moved behind the man and was now caressing the straining bulge in the front of his thin trousers. Huskily her voice promised the man that all he had ever desired would be his if only ..... he would submit ... if only he would promise ...

David tried not to move. Keep it there for two minutes the nurse had said. His hips urged him to move. Hie hands longed to slide the tube up and down, up and down the length of ...... Two minutes. He must remain still for two minutes. He pressed the lip of the tube hard into his crotch, hard into the firm flesh around the base of his cock to nullify any slight uncontrollable roll of his hips, any ungoverned thrusting. To keep it as still as he could as he felt a sudden rise in temperature in the mass that seemed to grip him tight. A rise in temperature that as it stabilised, was accompanied by a subtle difference in the feel in the substance within. A firming, a competing hardness.

His eyes strayed back to the magazine where the girl having stroked the cock was now engaged in teasing the tip of it with her tongue, easing out a dew of liquid that presaged an even greater issue. Her tongue teasing, her hand under the ball sack scratching, gently with long scarlet talons.

It must be two minutes. It must! He eased his penis slowly out of the tube. He had expected suction to keep it plugged irretrievably up but there must have been a valve mechanism for it came out, slowly, gliding over ridges now, sliding over the contours that it itself had formed. A slight, so very slight 'plop', and it emerged, glistening with the lubricating gel. One hand abandoned the tube on the side table, whilst the other were drawn irresistibly back to his own prick

His fingers slid on the lubricant, a lubricant now overrunning with his own juices, unable to seize the flesh, only to move over it, rub without friction. He was almost sobbing in his need to bring himself to orgasm; to spend this great desire, this pressure building up inside himself. His whole hands were coated with the stuff, slithering down his wrists, making control impossible, all he could do was to try to fight for a grip, to try and master this flesh that now had a life of its own. Flesh that was beginning to drive the rest of his body to a rocking swaying, thrusting motion. Hips, buttocks, stomach muscles, thighs. All driven to an inexorable rhythm, dancing to the dictates of his cock. A cock consumedby a primitive need.

God it was time! He reached for the other tube. His hand slimy with the lubricant having difficulty in grasping it. His body surging now, out of control, he just managed to slide the tube down over the spasming penis as the thick glutinous sperm erupted out in thick coils of pearled rope that curled and fought into a seething living mass in the bulbous head of the tube.

And on the little screen he saw that the man, himself now wearing a bra, was fucking the arse of one of the girls, a girl who it was apparent was herself possessed of a cock, whilst remaining blissfully unaware that he himself was about to be buggered by the second girl who herself was not really all she had first appeared to be.

David stood up placing the first tube alongside the second. Sickened by what he was watching. Sickened by what he had himself done. Feeling betrayed by that fact that his own stimulation had been triggered by watching ... what had turned out to be something a little too close to home to be comfortable.

He looked down to where the magazine lay on the floor, discarded in the moments of his own uncontrollable lust. It had fallen open a few pages further on. The pretty girl, her act of fellatio accomplished was depicted as greedily swallowing the fruits of her labours. Only she too wasn't really a pretty girl. Any more than David was.

Chapter 34.

“There's a good girl!” the nurse came bustling round the side of the screen and lifted the two tubes, one after the other, examining them carefully.

“Now that wasn't so bad, was it Sophie? Indeed from what I heard when I came in, I would guess that it wasn't a chore at all really.”

To David's horror she winked at him.

“Dr Walters is ready for you now dear. You can leave your knickers, bra and slip here for the moment. Just put this on to cover your blushes.”

She handed him a rather scanty chemise in a silky material that reached barely to the top of his thighs. “I know it isn't really hospital wear Sophie, but what girl doesn't want to look her best for a doctor's appointment eh? And those legs of yours are worth flaunting dear.”

“And a little reward pet, for being such a good girl.”

She handed David a small glass of a milky coloured liquid. “A little restorative! Straight down the hatch dear and it will do you a world of good.”

David, his resistance eroded by shame, drank. First a small sip though. It tasted quite pleasant with a vague coconut flavour so he did as he was bid, and it went straight down.

The short chemise necessitated a rather careful walk if it were not to reveal all and, even in only 2” heels, David was acutely aware that his stride was almost a mince as he went through the communicating door into the surgery proper, his faux breasts, freed from a bra's restraint, moving the lace cups of the chemise seductively.

The apple cheeked Dr. Walters greeted him as an old friend.

“Sophie dear, how lovely to see you again. And looking so well! And the scars all gone I hope?”

She took him by the hand and led him to a low divan bed covered in a crisp cotton sheet.

“Just sit there dear. Nothing to be worried about. Norse Formby has carried out the routine examinations. Just a little chat and a small procedure and you are free to go and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Do you play golf by the way?”

It was not what he had expected. “No I am afraid not.”

“Doesn't matter, neither did I until about four months ago, you'll soon get the hang of it.”

And then seeing the puzzlement spreading on David's face.

“It''s just that we have a new 9 hole course and everyone at Helgarren has been infected by golf mania. A disease that quite defies any cure that I can proscribe. And even being quite useless at it seems only to aggravate the symptoms”

Her chuckle gurgled at the back of her throat, inclusive, inviting David to share, woman to woman, the humour of her situation.

“Now let's look at your scars dear, just lift your chemise ... like that .... yes.... yes... mmmm.... almost gone .... another two weeks and I won't be able to find them ..... That's fine Sophie dear, you can cover yourself now .... And you mustn't worry .... I can safely clear you to play ... even the most energetic swing won't do any harm now.”

Again the chuckle, even more pronounced as Dr. Walters sat back, her eyes bright.

“Just a moment dear whilst I finish checking these test results that Nurse Formby has given me. So very efficient. Such a treasure.”

She half turned away, examining the papers on the clipboard. David sat there, trying to adjust, warmed a little by Dr. Walters' attitude which had to some extent dispelled his recent humiliation. Warmed a little? David wondered at the warmth of the room, comfortable enough when one just sported a chemise, sported , such an apt word given its length, sported, but when one was fully dressed it was surely a mite uncomfortable. Perhaps it was to cater for the client's comfort rather than that of the staff? But then he had always thought the temperature in hospitals oppressively high, and had wondered if any patients actually died from heat exhaustion .....

“Mmmm all perfectly satisfactory Sophie dear.”

Dr. Walters placed the clip board on a side table and turned her full attention back to him.

“All systems working and at high efficiency. No problems at all, quite indecently healthy indeed. Of course we will have to wait on the lab tests for sperm count etc., but I envisage no problem there. Just a technicality. Just to measure your progress.”

“My progress?” David felt quite light headed. Doubtless the relief of having finished with the humiliation of the tests. Light headed and warm. Hot sometimes. Hot flushes. He giggled to himself. Maybe he was going through the change.

“To womanhood Sophie dear. To chart the decline of all those nasty male urges. So inappropriate and distracting.”

Again the chuckle.

“Not to say counter productive.”

David found his thought processes elusive. Dr. Walters would not know. Helen had warned him that it would be a secret not to be divulged to, shared with, other members of staff. So he, David, could not explain that there would be no changes, no diminution in ..... To explain would be to negate the agreement. But Dr. Walters would notice surely .... ?

“Chart the progress?”

“Of course Sophie dear. We check the sperm count, blood supply, and related erective tissue volume, on a fortnightly basis to ascertain the efficacy of the hormone treatment. All monitored in conjunction with the Pharmaceutical Division of the V.M.R.I. here at Helgarren.”

“The V.M.R.I.?” David's earlier hot flushes were giving way to a general wooziness. Thinking was becoming an effort.

“The Venumar Medical Research Institute dear. In addition to the Pharmaceutical, the Surgical, and Biological Divisions also have their HQ s and laboratories here at Helgarren. So you can be assured that the very latest techniques and discoveries, the cutting edge of science, are here to help you transition.”

David's mind wrestled with the concept. And gave up. It all seemed too difficult. And unnecessary because it didn't apply to him. Had no relevance. Because he wasn't going to transition. He was just a stalking horse. No that was not the word. He was just a ....

“And on the subject of transitioning Sophie, I understand that Laura has rather jumped the gun and already given you hormones to take? Not before time too! One doesn't normally like to criticise Grace de Messembry, but I personally think she is far to rigid in forbidding their use at the Holding Wing....”

“Not any more.” David heard himself saying. “Coralie is starting. I persuaded her, persuaded Miss Grace that is....” He found himself smiling, almost with pride. It occurred to him to wonder why.

Dr. Walters voice filtered through to him, sounding a little distant now. He tried to concentrate.

“I am delighted to hear it dear, Long overdue in my opinion. But as far as you are concerned you can finish those that Laura gave you, they are perfectly OK, but then you can start on these.”

Dr. Walters rose and opened a medical cabinet with a small brass key, selecting a package from a box on the middle shelf and then with a muttered “No not those”, replacing it whence it came and then, after a moment's hesitation, opening a small drawer and returning with two boxes. “These are for you Sophie. The very latest development. Hot from the press.”

David felt relief wash over him. She must know! They were different.

And then he was no longer sure why that was so important. His mind seemed to be retreating. His senses also. He knew it mattered and that it was a confirmation, but of what and whether it was really important he was no longer sure. His brain seemed suddenly to have retreated into a cocooned numbness.

“There's 28 days supply here. When they are exhausted you just have to ask myself or Nurse Formby for more.”

Dr. Walters voice came to him down a corridor. A corridor with an echo. He had to listen hard to understand what she was telling him.

“Lie back Sophie dear. There you go. Just relax.”

And there was the prick of a needle in his groin. Just below his scrotum. The thought came to him that it was his own fault for not wearing his panties. A girl who had any shred of self respect should never be seen without her knickers, they were her last line of defence. Dr. Walters was saying something again. He must listen, it might be important. Concentrate!

“Just that small procedure I mentioned dear. We call it having Uncle Silas visit. It won't take a moment. Nothing to worry about. Just to help you on your way. A small temporary intrusion. Quite reversible and.........”

He felt a coldness overwhelm his groin. Maybe it would spread? That would be nice. He really was far too hot and ...... His mind sought for an explanation. Maybe they were amputating his willie? They may as well; it seemed only to cause him humiliation now and it did so spoil the lines of a dress. Better without it really although he did need it still to pee through otherwise it would go all over his shoes. Only if caught short on a country walk that is, he reminded himself sternly, because he always sat to pee now when there was a proper loo available. All good girls did and he had to be a good girl. He had promised Miss Grace and there were so many advantages if he agreed. So much more convenient and it really was quite nice with all the lovely undies and dresses....

“Drink this down Sophie dear.”

Pillows were being plumped up and adjusted behind his back.

“I am so sorry.” David said, hearing his words roll down the echoing corridor in his head.

He felt the rim of a glass cold against his lips, tasted fresh cold lemon with a sweet after taste through his lipstick.

“I am so sorry, I just couldn't concentrate, must have dozed off, you were telling me something and I .... I am so sorry....”

“Hush dear. It is for us to apologise It was the drink Nurse Formby gave you. A bit sneaky of us perhaps. It is a mild sedative, we felt it better not to alarm you before hand. Girls such as you tend to be suspicious of any alteration down there, and we did not want to panic you unnecessarily beforehand.

He felt numb, deadly cold in his crotch. No feeling at all. Nothing there? But they had promised! He struggled to sit up, to see.

Hands on his shoulders, restraining him. He realised that the nurse had joined them.

“No Sophie dear, Nothing taken away I promise you. Just an addition that's all. An Uncle Silas. To increase the effectiveness of the hormones. So that they don't need to counteract any malign testosterone activity. All in a good cause dear.”

“All in a good cause?.... Uncle Silas? Who is Uncle Silas?”

“You know dear. A pawnbroker. Three balls. We had introduced a third ball into your scrotum. Quite a small one really, about the size of a child's marble ....”

David's head was clearing, his thoughts clarifying, his brain beginning to work again. But still he fought for understanding.

“Why? Why introduce a third....”

“Its presence inhibits the action of your testes dear. We are not sure why, the details are still the subject of intense research. But tests have shown conclusively that, for whatever reason, it is most efficient. It in itself doesn't effect you in any way Sophie but it does give the oestrogen full rein as it were. On that account it is rather like castration in its function.”

She must have sensed that the last comparison was not conducive to engendering the desired calm in David's breast so she continued hastily.

“And of course it is completely reversible. The testes aren't harmed in any way, and if you should wish to remove it later, they will function as before.”

Dr. Walters hesitated, and then, after an inner struggle, opted for honesty.

“At least if it is not left in too long dear. We haven't sufficient data to be one hundred percent sure yet about any long term deterioration. But certainly in your case such concerns would be irrelevant.”

“And production of sperm?”

“As far as we can see not quite such an immediate response Sophie. Our sperm count tests on you will help enormously in determining its efficacy in that respect. But nothing that you need worry your pretty little head about. Just the contrary in fact. Given that your hormone regime will inevitably diminish, indeed eventually eliminate, that particular male characteristic, any acceleration attributable to Uncle Silas could well help in minimising the mood swings that could otherwise be expected.”

Not finding that these tidings brought relief flooding into David's face she continued.

“But there is really nothing for you to worry about Sophie. The numbness will wear off within the hour. The incision through which Uncle Silas was inserted is minute and will be fully healed within a couple of days. Just remember to wear cami knickers rather than panties, and stockings rather than tights, for a couple of days and you will not know anything has been done. Perhaps it may seem a little weighty down there for a while but you will soon get accustomed to that.”

David struggled to a full sitting position and swung his legs down, feet on the floor. Sheer stockinged legs and feet shod in elegant dainty shoes, following down from the lace frilled edge of his chemise.

“There is just one other thing.” Dr. Walters said. “I also fitted an enhancer ring around the base of your penis. No suggestion of surgery being involved of course and, as its name suggests, its primary function is to enhance the effect of Uncle Silas, but subsequently it has become apparent that it does have an unfortunate side effect....”

Jesus Christ! What had they done! David pulled aside the bottom of his chemise and looked down, modesty forgotten.

“.... As you know much of the work done here is cutting edge research and we have to be on our guard against commercial and technical espionage. So besides the normal CTVs etc., we have installed around the base of the walls, in the trench of the ha-ha, and on the banks of the river, electric cabling which has the ability to detect the passage of objects, particularly, though by no means exclusively, of metal manufacture ....”

He could see a thin, finely articulated, circle of bright metal clinging close, the top widened, swelled out to form a solid pod shaped lump. His right hand sought it out.

“.... so as to alert us as to any attempted unauthorised intrusion. It is a basic security precaution and although its mis-en-place over such a distance proved extremely expensive, it really has proved most effective. The only snag is that the Uncle Silas device, or rather the nano circuitry of the enhancing ring in conjunction with Uncle Silas, reacts to it rather as those electronic dog collars do to boundary wires, only more so. The pain is, I am told, quite....”

His fingers traced the metal, The flexible metal ring hugged his penis and scrotum tightly before seeming to disappear into both sides of the flattened pod which itself almost merged into the flesh. It was all still numb down there so he had no way of knowing how tight it was., how it would feel.

“.... excruciating, disabling even. Moreover the enhancing ring which is carefully constructed to expand to conform to the expansion, or otherwise, of the penis, for maximum comfort .” Dr. Walters coughed delicately, “shuts down its circuits as a safety device, which regrettably leads to an immediate and extreme contraction; thus cutting off the blood supply with, potentially, very serious consequences indeed....”

David withdrew his hand, smoothed down his chemise, looked at the normally ebullient doctor and knew from her stilted language, her unusual over formality, that this was a prepared speech. There were too many words. She too was embarrassed. It was a far cry from healing his knife wounds.

“.... as I am sure you can imagine. Luckily of course you would trigger off the alarm and our security people should be able to reach you before any permanent damage was done.” She shook her head. “Not that it need worry you at all Sophie dear, just remember and take care. Naturally the Gateway itself is unaffected so there is no earthly reason to approach the perimeter at all, River bank picnics can be fun of course but in the circumstances better the lake ....”

“How close?”

“How close dear? Oh it would certainly be triggered at six feet. Better double that to be on the safe side.”

Dr. Walters looked at her watch. “I hate to rush you Sophie, but if you are feeling well enough now perhaps you could go with Nurse Formby and retrieve your clothes. She has some spare cami knickers for you too. It is just that my next patient is due and I.....”

David stood up. Apart from the numbness down in his crotch, and a lesser feeling of numbness in his head as he digested what had been done to him, what he had been told, he was himself again.

“Thanks for the warning Dr. Walters.”

“Just take care Sophie dear. Another appointment in a fortnight I think, but don't hesitate to drop in at any time if you feel a little under the weather. Hormones can be tricky things.”

Chapter 35.

They sat together on the low bench, the sun hot on shoulders and arms. David closed his eyes and heard the insistent low drone of a bumblebee dwarfing the background murmur of smaller more distant insects, the song of a skylark above him, the crack of ball on bat, desultory hand clapping, and a male voice drawling lazily, as if to itself, “Good shot.”

David closed his eyes and for a few brief, infinitely valuable, moments, allowed himself to drift back in time, back to other years, to other lazy summer afternoons.

Only now the sun warmed arms and shoulders were emerging from a white halter sundress in a cotton mixture, with a smocked bodice and a sweetheart neckline. And the legs stretched out languidly before him were bare from mid-thigh downwards, and ended in feet clad in leather wedge espadrilles with rope ankle ties.

Only now his companion was not a cricketer, clad as he in whites, already padded up for the fall of the next wicket, but a girl, who vying with him in seductive femininity, pretty in a
turquoise short shift dress with silver rings on the straps and a silver buckle. Her legs, fetchingly parallel to his own, ending in cute grosgrain bow slingbacks which matched perfectly the colour of her dress. Not that he hadn't had such charming company before of course, although, if he was honest, seldom quite so entrancing, but then he had been ....

“Bur it doesn't change anything Sophie darling. You aren't aware of Uncle Silas' presence now. And you really didn't expect them just to let you walk out. And it is just so much more pleasant here.”

It was the Sunday of the following weekend. And they were watching the Helgarren Cricket Club play against a local village team.

“Yes.” David said. And it was.

Anne was right. After the traumatic appointment with Dr. Walters, life at Helgarren had been uneventful. Certainly less claustrophobic than in the Holding Wing. And if one accepted that one was still effectively a prisoner, there was a large degree of freedom. And freedom in quite idyllic surroundings.

The routine was less demanding and with much more free time. The tutors were largely the same and all were pleased at his progress, friendly and helpful. Dr. Tabatha O'Neill had been sympathetic to his concerns and her hypnotherapy sessions had helped to quiet the nagging questions at the back of his mind. He had his own delightful little house, the front door of which was his to lock. The other girls were pleasant and already their characters were melding into a happy little community. The larger community, both male and female, accepted them all at face value and they had all been inundated with invitations to join this or that Society, partake in this or that social activity. Uncle Silas was undetectable and he was unaware of the ring enhancer so comfortably did it mould around him, adjusting to his changing contours. Of course he worried about his sperm production and thought already that there may be some diminution, but couldn't be sure. But even that wasn't crucial. The process was reversible. Even more importantly the hormones were placebos.

Another scattering of applause. The same languid voice, only this time “Well bowled.” David opened his eyes. Stumps lay spreadeagled on the ground. An umpire's finger pointed skywards and the batsman turned towards the pavilion.

“Yes Anne,” he said, and turned and smiled at her.

“I am so glad you think so Sophie dear. You could be happy if .... ,” her voice faltered, “.... if you could come to terms with it, with being Sophie a little more. I know you still hanker after the old you, but darling you must accept and, and enjoy what you have. As I have....”

She really was very pretty David thought. He could not imagine her as anything other than what she seemed to be. As anyone other than Anne. Briefly he wondered if others saw him that way. It didn't matter. Anne was right. He must, whilst holding true to his inner flame, survive this place. And if he were to do that then he must turn it to his advantage. He must draw strength from enjoying what it could offer. Milk its pleasures and squirrel them away to reinforce his own determination, his own stamina.

She reached across and laid her hand on top of his.

“Please”, she said, “it's two way you know. I also depend on you, draw on your strength.”

He placed his hand on her's. “Yes Anne dear. But it is your strength that has sustained me. I would not have got this far without it.” He squeezed her hand gently and felt an answering grip on his fingers.

“So very touching.”, a cool amused voice sounded behind them. “Helen was so right! It would have been quite wrong to separate you. You just had to accompany Anne here, Sophie dear. Such a sweet couple.”

David's head turned, as he and Anne half rose.

“No please remain seated darlings, I too am just here to enjoy this lovely English summer's day and to watch a little cricket. I have told you both before, it is my dearest wish that you both regard me as an elder sister.”

Grace de Messembry moved round to their front and with an apologetic smile, and a “If you could just move up a tiny bit dears?” seated herself between them.

“Such an exciting game, don't you think? We have only lost once this season so far but it is still very much in the balance today.”

“Very much so Miss Grace.” David felt the familiar near paralysis seize his tongue.

“Of course it is very much a needle match.” She continued. “Near neighbours, only about five miles away as the crow flies, and our beating them by eight wickets last year still rankles.”

She smiled at them.”I hope you don't mind me joining you, but I couldn't help overhearing the last of your little chat, and I just had to tell you how delighted I am that you have become such good friends. And both determined to enjoy all your wonderful opportunities here to the full. So very rewarding!”

Grace de Messembry clapped delicate expressive hands together in appreciation of a rather edgy leg glance producing a four.

“Just one little point though. I do beg you not to feel so responsible for each other's progress. Whilst not for a moment disputing that you must have been of great comfort to each other at times of imagined uncertainty, or perturbation, you must realise that we would have got you here, to your present delightful emergent state, by hook or by crook as it were. So you really have nothing to worry about. You can cast aside any worries or doubts on that score. Just enjoy each other's company and leave the rest to us.”

Grace de Messembry placed a hand, butterfly light, on each of their knees adjacent to her.

“Now tell me dears, just to satisfy an older woman's romantic curiosity. Have you each managed to find yourself a beau here yet? Any of the young men here caught your eye yet? Or are you two too wrapped up in yourselves to notice their interest?”

David found himself blushing and could see the colour rising equally to Anne's cheeks.

It was Anne who found her tongue first. “No Miss Grace. Not really We have hardly settled in. So much to learn, we can't afford to be distracted.”

“Fine words, Anne dear, but Cupid laughs at good intentions, as you will doubtless find out. We do have Staff Summer Ball in a few weeks and I am sure you will be much in demand then. I shall have to do some matchmaking myself if none of our young males show any initiative.”

The be-ringed butterflies on their knees shifted slightly in a patting motion.

“What do you think Sophie dear? You are very quiet. Are you hiding something from me? I suspect that you are a bit of a dark horse. Or should that be dark minx? Will you trust me to find a young man for you to bewitch?”

Her face turned towards him, eyes wide in innocent enquiry.

“Please Miss Grace. No please .... I mean Yes I do trust you naturally, but it is still early days, and I know how busy you are .... and I would not like to think .... that any young man felt constrained, because of pressure from yourself .... ! mean.... If I am to find someone I would rather .... myself...“

God. No please, David thought. Please God don't let her go down that avenue.

“Oh it's no problem Sophie dear, the romantic, sentimental, streak in me would enjoy it. Such a long time since I dabbled in matchmaking. And as for any pressure! Dear me dear, you make me sound quite an ogress. Coercion just isn't me! To gently facilitate is my forte.”

“Miss Grace it is so very, very, kind of you and we do appreciate it, truly we do, but I think what Sophie means is ....” Anne rushed to the rescue, “....that we might prefer to think that we could attract our own boys .... might do wonders for our self confidence if we could ....”

“Anne dear, I quite understand, and I am confident you both will be fighting them off ere long. Perhaps they are still wary of you. Men, poor darlings, run scared at the sight of intelligent women. So if your natural allure doesn't entice them shortly, I might just be tempted to administer, behind the scenes of course, a little push in the right direction to selected candidates.”

Her face relaxed into a there-it's-settled expression. Anne smiled back at her, accepting the compromise. David too mustered a grateful mien, knowing that such was called for, but aware that another marker had been put down. That nothing Grace de Messembry said was by chance, however casual the conversation or occasion.

“I know how much those little soirées at the Holding Wing meant to you both. Such fun! And of course so essential for you at that time to learn some of the social skills a woman needs, the gentler ones as well as the use of a stiletto heel in martial arts.”

Silvery, genuine laughter, as she stood up in an elegant sweeping motion.

“Such happy memories for us all. Perhaps not so much for poor Nigel. He still limps a little you know.”

Grace de Messembry took three paces away from them before turning, unconsciously striking a model's pose, one hand in an elegant gesture turning out from an elbow close to her waist. The other hand lightly clasping the brim of her large brimmed straw hat, two ends of a band of richly coloured Indian silk fluttering from it. David had a vague recollection of seeing a girl in that posture in a poster from the 30 s or 40 s. A cigarette advertisement .... for Craven 'A' perhaps?

“Oh and Sophie dear, talking of those evenings reminds me, we took your advice about Tommy. About him being potentially such good girl material you remember? He's in Reception now but I am sure that, once that is over he will be eternally grateful to you for giving him his opportunity. Or should that be her by now?”

With a final wave she strolled away in the direction of the pavilion.

Anne moved close again and took his hand. Much that was unspoken lay between them. Each weighing Grace de Messembry's words and what lay behind them.

Such an idyllic setting. And any dispassionate observer would have been seduced by Grace de Messembry's charm and kindly consideration for her two protégées. But David wasn't dispassionate, Nor a mere observer. He was involved in the most personal way possible. And bitter experience had taught him that any intervention, however presented, by Grace de Messembry boded ill for those personally involved. As poor Tommy would now be finding out.

He recalled Helen Vanbrugh's words to the effect that she was not offering a passport back to masculinity and that she would still bet against it, hormones or no hormones. She hadn't actually said 'There are more ways to skin a cat .... ' but she may as well have done.

He mustn't let his guard down. Not allow himself to be seduced, lulled, into a state of mind where femininity just absorbed him, overcame him. Acceptance was easy, attractive even. He could no longer regard being treated as a girl, effectively living as a girl, as something abhorrent. His time at the Holding Wing had changed that for ever. Against all his original instincts he now knew that being female offered some advantages. That sometimes it could be pleasant. That if he were to become a girl it would not be the end of the world. That life could still be there for living.

The erosion of his attitudes, his male preconceptions, had progressed. Alarmingly

But the bottom line was that he was male. Had been born male and raised as a male. Was meant to be male. Was destined to be male ...... Yes he must believe that. Was destined to be male in spite of the Venumar Foundation's plans to the contrary..

But it was becoming difficult. That Sunday evening Anne and he dined with Laura and Emma in the restaurant. Silver service and candlelight. All girls together enjoying themselves. All suggestion of coercion, of lack of liberty, seemingly absent. Emma and Laura no longer representatives of a hateful authority, just convivial company, and he content to be a part of it. An elegant, attractive, female indistinguishable from her equally attractive, equally feminine, peers.

Or so it was for much of the time. The gossip turned to Emma's boy friend Michael. Their romance since that first meeting at the Holding Wing had blossomed. It transpired that he was in fact a biologist working in the Helgarren Hall laboratories and that, with Emma now established on the staff, they had plenty of opportunities to meet. At first David found himself drawn into the conversation, interested in his friend's activities, her evident happiness in the relationship. Even in a girlish way intrigued by the courtship details; Emma's reading of the progress of their friendship and the extrapolation of seemingly trivial incidents to become major indicators to both Michael's character and his intentions. Sharing in Laura's and Anne's questioning, Urging Emma on to fresh revelations.

And then under such girlish questioning, helped by the flow of wine, more intimate details emerged. How they had first made love. In detail. How fortunate she was to have such a lover. Kind, considerate but wonderfully potent, potent and imaginative and passionate. Just what every girl needed.

And Grace de Messembry's offer that afternoon nagged away, gaining ascendency over the girlish chatter. To find him a boyfriend. And a boyfriend was not just someone who sent you flowers, paid you compliments, bought you a drink and provided a foil for bright witty conversation. A boyfriend was, in Emma's words, what every girl needed. Someone who in return for the flowers and compliments would expect the girl to provide him with everything he needed. Compatibility has a physical dimension as well as a romantic one.

Laura must have sensed the change in him. Perhaps she had seen it coming. Knew the effect the turn of the conversation would have on him. At the end of the evening she lingered behind, making her excuses to the others with a careless “I will see you two in the bar. I just want a word with Sophie first. We will join you there in five minutes.”

“So,” she said when they had left, “what has happened, what's wrong? Have you boy friend problems already?”

And he told her. About the afternoon's meeting with Grace de Messembry, He needed to tell someone. And Laura was, according to his folder, the one with whom he should discuss his worries.

“.... but you probably knew already. Knew it would happen anyway.” he finished.

“No. No I did not know, but I cannot pretend that I am surprised. You must have half expected it too. Helgarren is not a limbo where you can rest suspended 'twixt then and now. Freedom here is the freedom to make progress. Not to stay cocooned in a fool's paradise. Girls acquire boyfriends. Both have expectations as to what that entails.”

It was true David knew, but he had not thought it through in such basic terms. Had unconsciously blocked the thought out. As with many others. Otherwise he could not survive.

“Yes I should have foreseen, but I had not thought .... not so soon anyway ....”

He wanted desperately to tell her about the hormone exemption, but remembering Helen's stipulation, dare not put it at risk, not even with Laura. Even with her he wasn't sure.

“Late or soon, Sophie dear, it will happen. You should think the unthinkable. Must think it. If I were you..... “ Laura paused.

“You can't be me! You can have no conception of what it is like to be me!” David filled in the silence.

“No I can't, but if I were, I would pre-empt her. I would look for a boy friend yourself. One that you can control, keep within limits. Because if Grace de Messembry finds you one, she won't pick him for his subservient attributes. His ready obedience to your wishes will not feature highly in her list of desirable characteristics .”

“Yes.” David nodded. Reluctantly finding wisdom in what she said. But not yet he thought.

“Talk to Anne. Perhaps together you can work out a strategy. But bear in mind ....”

Again the hesitation.

“.... bear in mind that even your limits might involve you in .... in acts in keeping with your new identity. Platonic friendships amongst the young are rare in the twenty first century. Bear in mind that you may have to accept that as the price you have to pay.”

Notes:

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