The Deception of Choice. Part 14 Comprising Chapters 40 & 41.

Synopsis:

David's friends lend sympathy and help. For which David is duly grateful but does it solve anything? Is it all too late with the Government seemingly now involved? Hope eternal springs in some breasts whereas David's breasts seemingly just spring ....

Helen offers an explanation, but you will have to decide for yourselves....

Story:

Part 14

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.

Anne. 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. Was ‘promoted’ to the Finishing Centre with David

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 much of the subsequent action, apart from his stay in the hospital facility, took place. Now ‘promoted’ to the Finishing Centre at Helgarren Hall.

Dr. Victoria Walters. A surgeon in the employ of The Venumar Foundation. She was responsible for his recovery after his knifing. She is in charge of the medical facility at Helgarren Hall.

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.

Grace de Messembry. Majority, perhaps sole, shareholder in the Venumar Foundation, which in itself is the controlling influence of numerous international companies. She is apparently the source and instigator of all David’s current woes

Simon. A member of the Rook Club/Writers' Guild whom David chose 'faute de mieux' as a possible boyfriend when pressurised to find one. David has had one fumbling encounter with him which did not however lead to a complete consummation of their putative relationship.

Emma. Was also at the Holding Wing before David' arrival, but is a genetic girl. She 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. Overall Executive Head of Helgarren Hall. Together with Grace de Messembry and Helen Vanbrugh she was present at David's initial interview after his stay in Reception

Laura. David’s mentor in the ‘Holding Wing’. Her other charges then being Anne and Emma.

Marie-Hélá¨n and Lisa Two other 'girls' in the current intake at Helgarren Hall arriving by an overseas route.

Coralie. A late ‘recruit’ arriving at the Holding Wing after David. Tried to knife Grace de Messembry but the attempt was instinctively foiled by David and she was sent to rehabilitation as a result. She shares David’s background, having been forcibly recruited and conditioned at Reception before arriving at the Holding Wing.

Mrs Townsend. Staff. The beautician

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.

The Deception of Choice = Chapter 40.

Anne, there before him, was sitting at a table at the far end of the garden opening out from the bar. Bramble snoring softly at her feet.

She smiled a welcome as he approached. “Did you get my note? About the developments. New but not completely unexpected.” She giggled.

Autumn was in the air. The sun westering low although it was not yet six. Though the evening was still warm David saw that she was wearing a light cashmere wrap flung across her shoulders. He hugged himself as he shivered with a sudden inner chill.

“Yes,” he said. “I got it. And the mail. Thanks Anne dear.”

“It's so exciting isn't it? And did you get the letters too? From the bank and the solicitors?”

“Yes. From the solicitors anyway. There was another .... so perhaps the bank too ....”

“It's all happening isn't it. I've been to see Dr. Walters and she ....” Anne's voice trailed off.

“There's something wrong isn't there? You must have started too? But .... I mean I know you don't want them. Breasts. But it was bound to happen .... with the hormones I mean .... you must have expected .... known.”

David looked at her .... tried to find the words.

“I got you a gin .... ready for you.... to celebrate .... I'm sorry....?

David sat. reached for the drink and half emptied the glass.

“Thank you,” he said.

Anne studied him. Watched him drink.

“There's more isn't there? She said.

“Yes,” David said and drained his glass. “Much more.”

He rose and taking his empty glass walked slowly through the French windows into the bar itself. Anne watched him anxiously. Sipped her drink. Sombre now.

He came back, his glass replenished and a new drink for Anne, and sat down in silence, looking not at her but over to the distant view that stretched before them in the late sunshine. Peaceful. Idyllic even, the rolling countryside stretching away with a church spire the only sign of distant habitation.

“Tell me,” Anne said.

And so he did. For it didn't matter now. And in a way it was a relief. It had been the only thing he had hidden from her. The only thing he had not been open about and the one thing that had thus been always a reproach for him, marring their relationship.

The special, secret, understanding he had had, thought he had had, with Helen Vanbrugh. About hormones.

His drink lay untouched before him. He did not look at her, could not bring himself to do so, but fixed his unfocused gaze away from her towards the blur of the distant spire. He needed to be unseeing to retain self control.

Only when he had finished did he look towards her. But by then it was too late to see her face clearly. Tears welled up and distorted all. He closed his eyes in a vain attempt to hold them back but they squeezed out under his lids and one ran softly down his cheek. He blinked and fumbled for his handkerchief. In his purse for his handkerchief. His hand trembling, his long immaculately manicured fingernails clumsy with the clasp.

“I should have told you before,” he said, “but I was so caught up in the secrecy of the thing. So fearful of what would happen if I broke my side of the agreement and told someone .... that I .... “

“I understand,” Anne said, and reached out with both her hands to hold, to steady his.

“I understand,” she repeated, “Truly. It's not your fault. I understand.”

And then.

“I didn't think.... I was just excited, I wanted to share it with you Sophie dear. Having breasts .... and the letters too. But the hormones .... I had no idea .... And I always thought of Helen as being rather pleasant in spite of .....”

David needed both hands to hold his glass steady enough to drink from. He concentrated on it, watching the tremors on the surface as the ice cubes clinked and eddied round the lime slice.

He nodded.

“Yes so did I. And what she said sounded so plausible. And there seemed no reason for it not to be true. I still can't fathom it. Why did she tell me that .... why did she go through all that rigmarole to get my agreement .... if it were just a charade?”

“Perhaps,” Anne ventured, “ perhaps something else happened that we don't know about .... or perhaps Grace de Messembry intervened .... Helen was away and ....?”

But David seemed not to hear.

“I don't think I can go on Anne. Before there was the hope that I could survive. Survive unchanged. Survive as me. As a me that could at least be regained one day. But now?”

“You will always be you Sophie dear. They can't change you inside. Whatever they do you will always be the kind thoughtful sweet girl that I ... that I.”

“You see Anne, even you! Even you. That's how you see me!”

Anne was distraught. Her hand at her mouth, her eyes wide at the realisation of the enormity of her words.

“No! No! I ....”

“Yes! Yes Anne! That's why I can't go on. No not because you see me as Sophie for that is as you have always known me. How else would you think of me? Not even because everyone else sees me as Sophie, nor even because in many ways I now am Sophie. But because I see my self more and more as her, think of myself more and more as Sophie.”

“And I can't go one because if I do one day soon I will be Sophie. One day soon I shall look at my breasts, weigh them in my hands, my fingers caressing the nipples and smile to myself with the satisfaction of knowing that they are indeed mine. One day soon I shall look back on today and wonder how I could ever have been so foolish not to have rejoiced with you at their budding. One day soon I thank whatever gods there be for the blessing of oestrogen.... “

“Sophie! Hush Sophie! You mustn't. Please stop!” Anne's voice was low, urgent. “Others will hear Sophie. I beg you. Please let us talk it through quietly.”

David's voice dropped to its normal level.

“See”, he said, “I am becoming hysterical to boot.”But its all too true Anne dear. More and more it's true. They are winning. Perhaps they've already won. This afternoon with Simon, When he tried to .... when he did ..... Part of me ..... reacted.”

“This afternoon? Simon? What happened with Simon Sophie? Did he? Oh Sophie!”

“It's been a bad day Anne.” David forced a wry smile. This afternoon Simon tried and .... well he partially succeeded .... I will tell you later .... but once or twice Sophie nearly took over. Once or twice she, I, wondered, was curious, about what it was like, whether I would enjoy. Wanted even to find out, to experience.....”

“So perhaps I should end it now while I still have control.”

David finished his gin. His hand was steadier now. “Another one Anne dear?”

Anne shook her head “You, we, should eat first. And then talk.” There must be a way. Something we can do.”

“I am not hungry. The thought of food .... Ughh! Whereas ......”

“I know. But you must try to eat. Even if it is like sawdust in the mouth. Come back to my place and I will do an omelette for you. And I have some wine too. Better no more gin if we are going to talk this out.”

“Anne it's no use. There is nothing I can do.”

“Sophie you need to eat something. Please. And we need to talk. Together. There must be something we can do.”

“Anne it's no use. And it's not your problem You have accepted femininity. Are happy with that. For me it's different.”

“Sophie dear, if you don't know now then I suppose you never will.... but I care what happens to you. I don't want you to end it all unless .... well unless it really is best for you, unless there is really no other option, no other way.”

Anne bent down and gathered up Bramble who, being those torn from dreams of canine derring-do, licked her cheek. “And I care for Bramble too. And he is certainly hungry and needs feeding. As do I. And I am not going to leave you here swigging gin on your own so you have really no choice but to come and make yourself useful by opening the wine.”

...........

David cradled his wine glass and regarded his empty plate. In spite of his earlier protestations, the omelette had been welcome. Had, as Anne had known, been essential, even if only to counteract the effect of the gins he had drunk. At least he could now attempt to think through his despair. Even if the effort still seemed a a waste of time.

But Anne was determined.

“It's too early Sophie. Too early to choose death. Too many unknowns yet. You can't be certain that it is the only option.”

“Isn't it Anne? What are the others then? Rehabilitation which is worse than death; worse than being Sophie even. Becoming Sophie, some sort of weird unnatural hybrid ......”

David saw the pain in Anne's face.

“I am sorry Anne dearest. I didn't mean to imply that you .... That you would be anything but a delightful person, a charming girl, nothing unnatural, but you have accepted. No longer question. Which makes it all different. Whereas I .....”

“You too could accept Sophie. It isn't difficult. Not now. Maybe you will anyway. Maybe it is inevitable..... You said yourself earlier .....”

David shook his head savagely as if to clear the vision from therein.

“That's just it Anne. Why it isn't too early to end it. Whilst I still know that it is the right thing to do. Before it is too late. Whilst I still can.”

Anne kept her voice cool, dispassionate.

“There is another option. We will have to help you escape Sophie.”

“Anne I have thought about escape, endlessly so, both here and at the Holding Wing. It's no use going down that avenue time and time again.”

“The avenue is different now Sophie. Forget the Holding Wing. That's in the past anyway. Helgarren is different. Far more open But more importantly before today you thought it didn't really matter. You thought that you had only to sit tight, think resolute thoughts, and eventually you would walk away. Just walk out of here unscathed apart from plucked eyebrows, pierced ears and a few ingrained feminine gestures.”

“That's unfair Anne. I have thought about it. Why only today I realised ....”

“I don't think it is unfair Sophie. It wasn't a do or die situation. Since you came to Helgarren all you had to do, so you now tell me, was to play the game. Keep taking the fake hormones and if you held true to yourself, and didn't offend Grace de Messembry, then you would be able in due course of time to be your own true unsullied self again.”

“Perhaps Anne, although it wasn't quite so simple, I wanted to ....”

“Perhaps it's harsh but it's true Sophie dear. But now it's changed. Hormones have changed it all. Now the only way you can see of holding true to yourself now is by taking your own life. Otherwise you will be the proud possessor of two delightful feminine breasts and a curvaceous perky bottom. With a withered male appendage that, even if it worked which it wouldn't, you would never dare expose for fear of the ridicule it would invite. Not that that would be any other than a temporary inconvenience. Once you have become reconciled to, indeed once you have learnt to fully appreciate all the advantages of your new persona, as indeed you will dear, why then you can ask for that poor vestigial symbol of your lost masculinity to be replaced by something more suitable, more becoming ..... more ....”

Anne paused.

“ .... more fitting.”

And with that she was holding him. Holding him close.

“Sophie forgive me. It hurts me too. It is my chosen option that I am talking of. You must know that. But you need to realise that for you it is different now. Escape for you is no longer eminently desirable. It is everything.”

David rested there in her embrace. Feeling the warmth of her body sink into him, reaching out to the inner coldness that had seized him. Drawing strength from her.

“How?”

“Tomorrow we must go through it. Systematically, methodically. And then throw ideas about. I think we should ask Emma if she has any.”

“Emma? But .... Can we trust her? If she tells ....? Rehabilitation is the worst of all....”

“I believe we can. There is no doubt in my mind Sophie dear. I think she may be a little disappointed but she won't betray..... and will want to help.”

“Disappointed?”

“Yes disappointed. As I am indeed. About you not wanting to be a ..... wanting to leave .... Selfishly so .... But that is all. She is fond of you too.”

“But she works for them and ....”

“And she is your friend. And you have to weigh the risk, because you can't afford to be too cautious. You now need to take risks because being too cautious is akin to doing nothing. And Emma is clever and is brimful of ideas. And above all you need ideas.”

David nodded.

“Yes. Ask Emma.”

Anne divided the last of the wine bottle between their glasses.

“You need to sleep now,” she said, “it's already late and your day has been eventful to put it mildly, but tomorrow we will go through it all, starting with the perimeter. Wall and gate house, ha-ha and river, there must be a weak spot somewhere.”

“I thought of somewhere, something today”, David said. “Just before Simon.....”

“As I said,” Anne smiled,”There are new avenues if you look for them. But let's save it for tomorrow when we are fresh. We might yet be spoilt for choice.”

At the door as he took his farewell Anne turned to face him.

“Just one thing”, she said. “Perhaps a jarring note, but go to see Dr. Walters tomorrow. Don't put it off. You need to know as much as you can about the effect of the hormones. For when you escape ..... You need to know if there are any other side effects .... Anything else that may be important .... And she will be expecting it. Don't give her cause to wonder. Oh and on a practical note you will need new breast forms to accommodate them.”

“Only one thing.” David said wryly. “If I do get out it means I will never know. About the meaning of the 'bare branches', about the 'why'.”

Anne gave him a gentle shove through the door.

“Go to bed”, she said. “Another reason for not choosing a suicide's grave. Alive you can always work it out later at leisure. From first principles if needs be. Or I suppose I could always write and tell you if I get there first.”

Back next door, in his own house, he made himself a goodnight cup of cocoa. That was another thing, he had never drunk cocoa since when as a small boy aged eight he had been introduced to it when he first left home to board at his prep school. And then he had found a tin of it in the kitchen cupboard here and it had again become part of his nightly routine. Idly he wondered if it was an idea that they had planted in his head or whether it was pure chance and he found solace in it simply because of brought back the comfort and certainties of those schoolboy years. Only then of course he had not had the option of adding to it a slug of whisky which now seemed not to detract from the childhood memories to the slightest degree.

And now it helped him to sleep, which in those far off days had never been a problem.

.................

Perhaps because he was anxious about his forthcoming visit to Dr. Walters and by association more conscious of his burgeoning breasts, but he was constantly aware of them the next morning as he walked down Helgarren Hall's labyrinthine corridors the next morning. The breast forms pouched in his bra seemed to rub them unduly, aggravating their new found sensitivity and so preoccupying his thoughts that he was not aware of the approaching clip clop of high heels heading towards him until, on turning a corner, he nearly collided with Helen Vanbrugh. Would indeed have collided with her had she not, with an awareness and reactions that put David's to shame, executed a nifty side step and shimmy that, if observed by selectors, would have made her a serious contender for the number 10 shirt in any International Rugby Fifteen.

“Sophie dear! What a pleasant surprise!” Helen Vanbrugh seemed genuinely pleased. “I haven't seen you since our little drink together on the terrace. So enjoyable! But I have been away on my travels since and ....”

She stopped. Saw in David's face the accusation of betrayal. The physical unconscious recoil away from her.

“Oh. I see. It has happened. So you know.” Flatness in her voice.

“Yes. It has happened. I know. Know you lied.”

Helen looked at him for a long moment. David met her gaze unwaveringly, willing her to know his contempt.

“Yes you must think that. But I didn't, although what I did was, I suppose, just as unforgivable.”

She reached out a hand to him and then hesitated as if she dared not, and then withdrew. She nodded as if to herself and then .....

“Come with me. To my office. If you are going to hate me so, then let it be for the right reasons.”

“I have an appointment.” David said stonily.”With Dr Walters. Because of...... Because of .... it.” He felt tears well behind his eyes, his throat tighten and feared lest she would see his weakness and despise it. Or see it as an obscene justification of what they had done to him.

“Dr. Walters will wait. I need to tell you and you had best know before you see her.”

She turned abruptly, and started to retrace her steps, before turning and repeating. “Come with me. Now.”

And David followed her. Though why he did not really know. Perhaps it was the authority in her voice, an authority that he had grown to, been schooled to, accept. Perhaps it was because he felt on the verge of collapse; his sudden meeting with her coalescing the threads of his despair into a form of numb paralysis. Perhaps it was simply because he could see no clear alternative.

Her office was spacious, catching the morning sun which streamed through high mullioned windows. Helen led him, not to her desk which backed onto the window area, but to where two low comfortable looking chairs and a matching sofa surrounded a low table on which rested a small vase of alstroemeria.

“Sit down Sophie. Please.” She indicated the sofa whilst speaking into an intercom on her desk. - “Two coffees please. Black. Oh and tell Victoria Walters that Sophie has been delayed.”- before herself sinking into one of the chairs.

For what seemed an age there was silence between them. David tried to concentrate on the flowers before him. Working out their exact shade, trying to lose himself in admiration of the reverse curve of their petals, their light fragrance. Trying to concentrate on them so that in doing so he might regain his own equilibrium, master his own emotions that threatened to betray him.

Maybe it was just the coffee for which Helen waited. Maybe. When it had arrived, when she had poured two cups and placed one in front of the unacknowledging David, she sipped hers reflectively and then .....

“I don't know where to start Sophie. I owe you an apology. And you have it. Have it from the bottom of my heart. Although I don't expect you to accept it. Nor do I expect it will make any difference to you. Nor salve any wounds nor lessen your sense of hurt ..... of betrayal.”

“You lied to me.” David could hear his voice creak He had long since mastered the art of speaking in a light feminine voice. Such had become second nature to him. But now it was as when a boy's first starts to break, as he struggled to squeeze out the words.

Helen shook her head. “No dear I did not lie. Although possibly, obviously, it seems to you that I did. I said .....”

“You said that the hormones I was given would only be placebos. That they would not real. That if I kept my side of the bargain. If I agreed to ... that I would not have hormones. That I would not develop breasts .... That I would be a sort of yardstick against which others could be measured .....That I would retain my physical integrity. My physical integrity. Those were your words. “

The words came tumbling out. Disjointed phrases returning time and time again to the theme of the breaking of trust, of duplicity. Disjointed phrases that melded into the coherence of a heart rending betrayal.

Helen remained silent. Watching the grief stricken figure of the girl before her. Watching as it disintegrated .... vulnerable, miserable. Then she rose and quietly joined David on the sofa, placing her arm softly across his shoulders, her hand gently soothing him.

“I am so very sorry Sophie. I tried. I only said I would ask Dr. Pinecoffin. The final decision was always hers. But I truly thought that her assent was a formality. I had already mentioned it to her, and in principle she had already agreed.”

“Then why? If she had agreed .... Why?” David's voice was muffled, his head buried in his hands.

“Agreed in principle. And I thought it would be enough. There was no reason for it not to be. Not then. And then I was called away. Suddenly. On that trip to the Far East. So I wasn't there. Not when it mattered.”

“I don't understand. Nothing changed. I had agreed to your terms, to go .... to come here to Helgarren..... What else mattered?”

David lifted his head from his hands. Looking at her. Pain in his eyes.

“What mattered Sophie was that Laura gave you hormones. And you took them. You started the regime. It negated your value as a test standard.”

“I took them because I had no option. I had promised you. No-one must know of what we had agreed you said. I had to conform. I didn't think a few days' supply would make any difference!”

“You weren't to know. And I don't suppose it would make a difference. But from a scientific viewpoint .....”

“So it's all Laura's fault!” Real anguish now. Anguish screaming in every gesture, every look.

“ No. Not Laura's fault. She did not know. She thought she was helping..... It was just a mistake.”

“A mistake!”

“A mistake. Mistakes happen. If I had not been away I could have perhaps prevented it. Covered up even. Even that. But I wasn't. I couldn't. It was unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate? Is that all you can say? Unfortunate! Did Grace de Messembry know?”

“Grace? Why should she? It's just a small part of ...... and anyway It was my responsibility. Something I had arranged.”

“Yes something you had arranged. And afterwards did you think it was such a small part of something that it was not worth a mention? Not a word of it when you returned. When we shared a drink together, you and Anne and I, and we chatted of books and tennis.

David straightened up. Shrugging off Helen's arm. His body bowstring taut.

“It's not as if you didn't know where to find me.”

Helen Vanbrugh nodded. “I have no defence,” she said. “I was cowardly. That is my sin. That of cowardice. Not deceit. I didn't know how to tell you. Kept putting it off. And ......”

“And?”

“.... And I told myself that it didn't matter. Because you knowing would not change anything. It was too late. The die was cast. Not knowing was best for you. Less stressful. And perhaps hoping that by the time you did know. By the time it became obvious. By that time perhaps you would be reconciled. Would not mind. Even be enough of a girl inside to welcome it..... to welcome the changes that the hormones had .......”

“And you think that that really excuses, justifies my not knowing .... justifies your silence?”

Helen sighed. “No of course not. It was to assuage my conscience, ease my embarrassment, that is all.”

David drew a deep breath. “If you had told me. When you first returned after your trip, then I could perhaps reconsidered, changed my mind. Stop taking them ....”

“No. You know it doesn't work like that. One way or another you would still be on a regime of hormones. Perhaps not so advanced, perhaps not here, but..... And anyway Sophie hormones are not the end of the world. Remember I told you then, at that meeting, that I thought that you would become a butterfly irrespective of our agreement? Because what happens to the body is not crucial to what you become. It is just the veneer, the icing on the cake.”

David felt stubbornness welling up inside him. The stubbornness of defeat perhaps, of spitting into the face of Fate. “I could still stop taking them.”

Helen shook her head wearily.

“It's far too late for gestures of that sort Sophie dear. Far too much time, effort and money has been invested in you. What I offered was perhaps a lifeline and I am sorry that it turned out as it did. Regret that it raised hopes that served only to inflict still more pain. But it was at best a half chance and an exceptional one. There isn't any more options open. Certainly not the one of blank refusal ..... And anyway .....”

She looked at him solemnly

“.... And anyway you might find you didn't want to, couldn't, stop taking them.”

“Couldn't? Might not want to? What do you mean.”

Helen Vanbrugh looked at her watch.

“What do I mean? Why that perhaps it has already gone too far. You must realise it yourself.” She seemed weary suddenly. “In am sorry Sophie dear, but I am now running very late, as are you. Dr. Walters awaits. Give her my apologies for delaying you.”

She hesitated, indecisive.

“And ask her about the hormones. She is far better qualified than I to explain. I really know so little about the details ......”

Her voice faded and she stood up indicating that the chat was over.

“I am truly sorry that it didn't work out Sophie dear. What we had planned. I hope that you will in time understand and find it in your heart to forgive my cowardice in not telling you earlier.”

And at the door again she paused, her hand laid lightly on David's arm.

“So sorry. Please remember. I am always here. For you. In spite of everything.”

But David had no words to give her. He turned his back on her and set off down the corridor towards the Medical Centre, his senses seemingly put on hold. Feeling nothing. Just an emptiness inside.

The welcome by Dr. Walters had warmth enough to dispel the blackest mood. It merely deepened David's. He didn't need to explain the cause of his visit. Dr. Walters clearly already knew. Had been expecting it, anticipating it and was now fully prepared to rejoice over it. She examined his breasts and the area around them carefully, her fingers pressing here and there as she made little clucking noised indicating satisfaction. When the probing and pushing were over she leant back and smiled her pleasure at him, her apple cheeks beaming her delight.

“They're coming along just fine Sophie dear. Now they have started we can expect a fairly rapid progression. So very exciting isn't it? One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is to see you girls blossom so.”

David's failure to confirm his own delight at the development that was transforming his body seemed to pass unnoticed. Dr. Walters fairly bubbled with joy. And advice.

“We will have to find you new breast forms of course. With a concave inner shape to accommodate your new shape. Nurse Formby will find you a suitable model size. And of course we will have to be monitor them carefully to take account of their growth. And of course I am afraid that the use of adhesive will have to be limited to fairly short periods, special occasions only. We must allow them to develop naturally and for that there must be no undue pressure or drag.”

She patted the back of David's hand encouragingly.

“Don't look so serious dear. There's nothing to worry your pretty little head about about. We will keep a careful eye on them. And the new adhesive ones attach only at their perimeter allowing free movement towards the centre. So no need to concern yourself as long as you keep to our guidelines for periods of use.”

David, naked to the waist, bra-less, looked down at the nubs of nipples on his chest, already more prominent than he remembered them, surrounded by what were clearly spreading areolae, themselves already thrust outward by the beginnings of a soft swelling beneath.

Dr. Walters misinterpreted his glance

“Too soon to consider implants yet dear though. We need to see what the natural contour line is. And indeed you may not need them although .... well most girls appreciate a little extra ....”

Dr. Walters sat back in her chair, clasped her hands in front of her and regarded David benignly.

“Now are there any questions you have dear? Anything else I can do to help?”

David feared answers, was reluctant to ask questions that might provoke them. But remembered Anne's advice the night before.

“Are there any more I should know about them. The hormones .... any other effects? H

Dr. Walters looked surprised.

“Apart from breast development dear? Well yes of course. Some of which are perhaps not so immediately evident though. More weight on your hips and rear, hair growth, a softer skin ... I have a leaflet I can let you have which goes into some detail. All female attributes to make you even lovelier ....”

“No. No not that. I meant the hormones themselves. Will there be any adverse effects long term or can I stop taking them now? Can I ....”

“Stop taking them? Good lord no Sophie dear. You need to continue. Will always need to take them without a natural oestrogen production of your own dear. But there are no really harmful effects. Nothing more than some of the symptoms that women themselves would experience at ....... “

“But if I stopped .... For some reason or another ..... If I forgot say .... What would happen?

Don't worry Sophie dear. You won't forget. They are rather addictive you see. Not on their own of course. That would disqualify them from any commercial use but .... “

“Addictive!”

“Yes Sophie dear. Although strictly speaking only latently so. Although in practice .... well in practice it is a little more complicated. Although it doesn't matter. It all boils down to the same thing really. You do need to take them after all. So it makes no difference in the long run.”

David looked at him aghast.

“What do you mean? In practice? No difference in the long run?”

“Well dear although the addiction in the hormone tablets is only latent, they do become highly addictive when taken in conjunction, as you have done, are indeed doing, .... when taken in conjunction with OGTA Type 20 (a) cartridge .....”

“The bloody OGTA! The bloody cartridges! They're addictive too!”

“Only mildly so dear. For your benefit. Just to act as an aide-memoire. You may have noticed. But taken together they react with each other and move the latent addiction inherent in the hormone to a completely different level. Its quite interesting really. In the way it has little effect on the Type 20 (a) but such a drastic one on the hormone preparation. The former acts as a sort of catalyst to the latter. Although catalyst is not technically a correct description. There is a long scientific name for the phenomenon, of which this a splendid .......”

“A drastic one? A drastic addiction?”

“ Oh I am afraid so, Sophie dear, but as I say nothing you need to worry about. The Type 20 (a) cartridge effect is only slight and indeed we can wean you off that quite easily. You could do it yourself probably although it might not be a pleasant experience. Mainly a question of will power to overcome the craving and a little help with the physical withdrawal symptoms. As for the hormone tablets .... well it doesn't matter does it? You will need to take them anyway so the question is only a theoretical one.”

“But if .... if after I leave here .... if I can't get a supply for while ....What then?”

“But you can get them quite easily Sophie dear. They are generally available on prescription. The version you receive here is our very latest product destined to be released soon to the general public. What is currently available on the market will serve your addiction equally as well though. It differs from the new only in its degree of efficacy. And anyway you could always get a supply of the latest product direct from the V.M.R.I.'s Pharmaceutical Division's website. You would only have to give your name.”

“But if I couldn't .... for whatever reason.” David's voice was hardly a whisper. “If I couldn't. What then? What would happen?”

“But you would have to Sophie dear, You would need to. The alternative is not one you should contemplate. As I said, once triggered they are highly addictive. We do indeed have a course of in-house treatment available to counteract the addiction. Indeed it would be most unethical of us not to have one. But it involves rather unpleasant side effects over a considerable period of time and I certainly wouldn't recommend it.”

Dr. Walters smiled and patted David's hand reassuringly.

“But you need them anyway dear and we are here to monitor your progress and take care of you so its not an issue. Though anyone in a less fortunate position deprived, for whatever reason, of a supply of our hormones would find .... well it is not just a question of an intense craving. There would be other more serious physical complications..... No Sophie you are completely dependent on them now, with all that such a dependency entails.”

Chapter 41.

“I have spoken to Emma,"Anne said, “and she is eager to help. Well after a little persuasion anyway. She can't understand why anyone quite so pretty should want to but .... well she said she would come round later this evening and have a brain storming session with us.“

They were sitting on a small grassy knoll overlooking the river. Bramble hunted haphazardly, circling around them, trying to make sense of the new scents that invaded his questing nose. Like seeing words for the first time, knowing they are important but beyond experience.

“She said that we should start by making a list of the obstacles, reduce them to individual problems, and then seek for individual answers. So I thought there is the wall, and the river, the ha-ha, and ....”

“.... the gate house,” finished David. Because he felt he ought to contribute. They were doing it for him. “And all reinforced by the perimeter cable which I can't cross. Or which if I try to will disable me. Painfully.”

“To which we have been told you can't approach nearer than 10 feet, perhaps less,” corrected Anne. “It may not be the same thing. Emma said we had to examine facts not conclusions.”

David dragged his mind back from hormone addiction.

“Yes,” he said, “she's right. It had occurred to me. I mentioned it last night. When I was in the Sports Centre I had an idea. I could use a vaulting pole. Only ....”

“I didn't know you knew how. Could you really clear the wall with one? Don't you need a proper run up and a firm base to ....?”

“I have no idea how to pole vault. I have never tried. But I wasn't thinking about the wall but the ha-ha. If the perimeter cable is laid at the bottom and I could use the pole to swing over it .....”

“.....you would clear the cable by more than ten feet .... Yes!” It was Anne's turn to finish a thought.

“But how would I get the pole there? The ha-ha is plain view of the house. I can hardly pass the pole off as the latest fashion accessory, something every with-it girl must have!. And I don't think they come apart like fishing rods. And people will see me do it. Unless I try at night and that will make it even more difficult. And I have no real idea it I could do it. And I can hardly practice. I would have only one attempt and .... It's not really feasible. It was just a thought.“

“No Sophie dear. It is more than that. A vaulting pole is a way of crossing the ha-ha. And of clearing the cable. Maybe we can think round the other problems. It's a start. It proves it is not impossible. There must be other ways over or under or around the other obstacles. And when we have defined them, we will surely be able to select one that is feasible.”

“But Anne, even if one is .... even if I could. Then what about the addiction? I will still need hormones. I will still grow breasts, become more feminine. I will....”

“.... you will be free Sophie dear. With other options. Other possibilities. More possibilities than if you were dead. Remember, let's take one problem at a time. The wall, the river, the ha-ha, and the gate house to start with.”

And so they did. Together they examined as minutely as they could the physical characteristics of their surroundings, probing for weaknesses in the security of Helgarren Estate.

“As seen from the inside.” as Anne said. Because if security had been designed to counter industrial espionage and intruders coming in rather than inmates trying to get out, then there might be makeshift compromises involved.

And if at the end they were no nearer to finding a solution they did have a much clearer grasp of the problem. And also a feeling that, if it were not exactly optimism, at least had the semblance of a distant echo of hope. Although why this should be was not exactly clear to either. Perhaps for David it was the concentration involved in tackling a tangible, practical, situation and thereby becoming intellectually divorced, albeit only temporarily, from a world revolving around his concerns of incipient femininity.

Traces of it even survived the opening of the bank's letter, forgotten in the turmoil of the previous evening.

It stated that, acting on the instructions of, and the evidence provided by, her solicitors Haughton and Humphries, they had pleasure in confirming the change of her account name to Ms. Sophie Felicity Jackson in accordance with her new status, and trusted that they would have the pleasure of continuing to serve her. They took advantage of this opportunity to enclose her new charge and credit cards made out to correspond to her new identity and begged to inform her that her new pin number would be forwarded to her under separate cover.

True to their word, and as if determined to establish new levels of efficiency to mark the occasion, such had arrived by the day's post.

Accompanying it was another official looking envelope, although brown and cheaper in appearance denoting its provenance from a government department. It was from the DVLA and it contained a new Driving Licence. Made out in the name of Sophie Felicity Jackson. It, rather sniffily, announced the cancellation of a previous one made out in the name David Victor Jackson, which had apparently been returned to the DVLA by Haughton and Humphries, Solicitors, who had additionally provided the requisite certified copy of the Gender Recognition Certificate and supporting documentation enabling this action to be taken in compliance with the relevant Road Traffic Act.

“Why did they bother?” David asked Anne as they walked together across to the restaurant for dinner.

She shrugged. “Maybe it's a legal requirement ... if you have a licence and your status changes ... Don't ask me. I haven't got one. Where I was brought up people didn't usually bother to pass a test before they stole a car.”

“I've got one. Or at least I did. It may still be in it's garage.”

“Maybe they don't know about it though?”
“They will do. If they have access to my driving licence and bank details they will have found its registration documentation and insurance ..... I think Helen once told me that everything was taken care of, all insurances renewed etc. So they will know all right.”

“It could be useful though.”

“I don't see how. If I use the new licence I shall have to do so as a girl. If I did get out that is.”

“At least you recognise the existence of an 'if' now.” Anne said.

They shared a table with two of the other girls from their intake, Marie-Hélá¨n and Lisa, so further exploration of that particular conversational theme was lost. Not that there was any lack of animation or excitement. At least as regards two, three even, of the diners. Breasts, their arrival, development, possible enhancement, advantages accruing, sensations emanating, effect on boyfriends real and imaginary, formed an inexhaustible source of speculation, experience, anecdote and fancy.

It brought David back to grim reality. More and more conscious of his own breasts which, newly re-awakened to his awareness, delicately made their presence felt with every movement of his body. He caught Anne's admonishing glances and desperately tried to join in the chatter, exchanging experiences ....'on first discovering'.... etc., lest any lack of enthusiasm be remarked upon.

“Just in time”, Marie-Hélá¨n exclaimed, “for our preferment.”

“Preferment?”

“Yes Anne, preferment. With the new intake arriving this weekend we shall no longer be new-girls-on-the-block. And it wouldn't be right and proper to be senior girls without our own boobs would it?”

“A new intake?”

“Just so Sophie”, said Lisa.”There's a notice about it on the board. Another six girls arriving. 'Novitiates' they call them. Did you know they called us that? I didn't. Makes us sound dreadfully nun-like and pious! So very untrue!”

And they all giggled. Three of them in genuine amusement.

“Anyway we will be able to be as sinful and un-nun-like as we wish when we are seniors. In fact I think it is one of the qualifications for being one from what the others tell me.”

“Will they allow us out?” Anne asked thoughtfully “I remember Dr. Pinecoffin saying, when we arrived, something about the seniors being allowed out on special occasions.....”

“Oh I think you have got to have a track record of being very naughty indeed before they allow that .... Very senior. And very naughty indeed.....”

“What a terrible one track mind you have Lisa! Doubtless you will be the first to qualify! But I think you are right Anne. I know seniors do go out sometimes but only when they are very senior and always accompanied. At first anyway. And not until they are very certain ....”

“Very certain about what Marie-Hélá¨n?”

“Why very certain that, when left to our own devices, we are truly very capable of being naughty Sophie dear!”

There was a fresh dissolving into girlish merriment. So much so that those seated at neighbouring tables could not help smiling to themselves, so infectious was the sound.

“Another possibility,”said Anne, as she and David walked back.

“No. By then it will be too late. Before they let me out I will be Sophie. Irredeemably so. Christ! Probably as naughty as the rest of you. Unless it's in a coffin.”

“ Sophie don't. You promised not to think like that until ....”

“I am just bearing it in mind Anne.... as I must.”

A light drizzle was beginning to fall as they scurried past the fountain and across the little square to the adjacent front doors.

“It's my turn”, said David.

“Next time Sophie dear. I told Emma to come here, and I have already prepared some nibbles and things for when our brains need nourishment.”

And indeed Emma arrived whilst Anne still had her key in the lock.

With cries of delight and much air kissing the three made their way into the little cosy sitting room. Emma sank into the sofa, David chose an armchair, whilst Anne fussed around pouring drinks. Plymouth gin and tonic for David. Campari and soda for Emma, and a schooner of dry amontillado for herself.

Emma was brought up to date with the result of the afternoon's deliberations on escape possibilities.

“So we don't think it's impossible”, Anne said. “We just haven't come up with a scheme that seems workable. The cable is the problem. Protected by it the wall cannot be climbed over, tunnelled under, or broken through. One could not get close enough. The river in parts is fordable and in itself not a serious barrier. But the cable in the bank rules it out also. The ha-ha is not impossible in that it could be vaulted if we were sure that the cable indeed runs in it and not on the bank itself. But how to cross it without being seen is another problem.”

“And the gate house?”

“We don't know Emma. I seem to recall Dr. Walters telling me that the gate house was unaffected. But I am not sure. I was pretty much in a state of shock at the time. And Anne can't remember either. We thought maybe you could find out?”
“Yes. That shouldn't be difficult.”

“But even if it is unaffected, it is manned. Nobody passes through without authorisation. The main gates are locked between 11.00 p.m. and 6 a.m. And the postern is under control of the night guard.”

“Guards are human Sophie. And The Venumar Foundation is genuinely concerned about industrial espionage. Your programme is really only an offshoot of what happens here. I think that the guards are more concerned about checking who comes in than who goes out. They may have been told to do both but, as I say, they are human, and human means fallible. As far as I know none of the other girls have tried to sneak out, so they why should they expect it?”

“But Sophie needs more than that Emma. More than the possibility that she will be allowed through. She needs, at the very least, a strong probability. She won't have another chance.”

There was silence as all three considered the consequences of it going wrong. Of her being discovered.

“I will check first whether the cable runs through the gateway itself. Even if it does, there must be provision for that section of it to be turned off when girls are authorised to go out. As we know they are. I will try to check that as well, although it may take time. I shall have to be discrete.”

“In the meantime”, said Anne, “we can add it to the ha-ha as a possibility.”

“We can add the river too”, said Emma suddenly. “And even the wall at a pinch. It's the cable that is the problem and, whilst we can't do physically anything about that, we might be....”

“.... be able to cut off the electricity supply to it.” Anne finished for her, bright eyed with excitement, sitting bolt upright. “There must be a control switch or a fuse box or.... if only we could find were it is?”

David who had half risen from his chair, subsided slowly back into it. “No.” he said. “Such a switch would be located on the circuit. I would not be able to get near it. The same distance conditions would apply.”

He looked at Emma. “And I couldn't allow you to do it Emma. The consequences for you would be ..... if found out .... would be incalculable. Don't even think about it. I couldn't live with that.”

Emma smiled at him. “I make my own decisions dear. But I take your point. For the moment anyway. Although they would have to find out first. But for now let us work on what we have. Clear up the uncertainties. Think on what we have said. We have enough to occupy ourselves with for a couple of days.”

She turned and grinned at Anne, twirling her empty glass in her fingers.

“In the meantime a girl could die of thirst.”She winked openly at David. “If our hostess would pander to my insatiable requirement for alcohol I would volunteer two snippets of news.”

Anne levered herself out off her chair, her own glass in her hand. “I just didn't want to encourage you in your excesses darling, especially as Grace de Messembry expressly asked me not to, but since you are determined to transgress, I suppose the rules of hospitality leave me with no choice.

She busied herself with glasses and the contents of bottles. “I suppose you expect Sophie and I keep you company in your iniquity dear? Intend to drag us down with you?”

“Absolutely. I insist,” said Emma. “One of the attractions of going to Hell, apart from enjoying the journey itself, is that one meets all one's friends there.”

“Very well then Emma dear, I suppose good manners leave us no option but to sip some innocuous beverage also, purely to keep you company. Will tonic 'au nature' suffice for you Sophie dear?”

“It sounds too delightful Anne darling, but as quinine straight gives me such frightful headaches, if you could possibly dilute it a little ....?”

“Dear Sophie, of course. May I suggest a healthy measure of Plymouth gin would answer?”

They all laughed. And David knew that he would miss them dreadfully if he did escape, that it was moments such as these that had kept him sane. Enabled him to cling, however precariously, to his own identity. Tried to ignore the paradox that he enjoyed them through another identity.

Glasses refreshed they waited. Three girls content in each other's company. Three girls? Outwardly anyway. Outwardly?

“Your snippets of news Emma?” Anne prompted.

Emma sat back in the sofa and sipped her Campari, savouring its bitterness, drawing out the moment until their attention was assured.

“Well first”, she said, “there is the matter of a visit from the Minister of Science and Technology the weekend after next to open the new Stem Centre Research laboratory. Although truth to tell, it has already been operational for ten months and anyway isn't really new, just refurbished with the latest gear.”

“We must be charitable though. After all he is a politician and they have so much on their plates at the moment. Busy all the live long day with wars to fight, illegal immigrants to hunt down, excuses to be made, errors to conceal, misdemeanours to cover up. The poor darlings can scarce find the time to fart, let alone venture out of their London ivory towers to visit poor little us.”

“Emma, you're not serious surely? A government Minister here? But what about us? Aren't they worried that this operation might be discovered?”

“David don't be so self-centred. Helgarren doesn't resolve round us. It has an international reputation as a centre of excellence for, amongst numerous other specialities, research into genetics and stem cells. The Minister will be here in acknowledgement of that reputation and of the V.M.R.I.'s contribution to export earnings, etc., etc., or so the citation goes.”

Emma winked at Anne. “Try not to be too scandalised Sophie dear, but it is an open secret that that Grace de Messembry has again refused a DBE that an eager government is keen to bestow on her in recognition of all this. It is said that she fears it might link her too closely to one party when she has always striven to be apolitical. As she says, one never knows who will win the next election.”

Anne giggled “So we have to thank her desire for impartiality so as to maximise future opportunities for not having to address her as Dame Grace.”

“Exactly. Grace de Messembry is adept at remaining in the shadows. And as for discovery Sophie, if you took the trouble to examine the folder that you were given on arrival you would see that the Transgender Research Project does indeed figure in the list of activities here at Helgarren Hall, albeit not in the 'Headline' category.

“I bet it's buried so deep that it would be easier to find starting from Australia than from here.”

“Not at all Sophie. And I offer as proof the fact that the Minister is, or so Laura tells me, scheduled to meet some of your sisters.”

David looked at her aghast.

“No .... Surely?”

“Yes, Surely Sophie dear. Not you, nor Anne, but two or three of the very senior girls who are finished and a credit to themselves and to the project.... modified to complete specification as it were..... voluntarily of course.”

“But why? Why on earth does a Minister want .... “

“Perhaps because they are involved in the funding. Laura mentioned it yesterday. A rumour she had heard that the Transgender project is government funded.”

“Christ!”

“I tried to check with a friend who works in the Accounts Department and well .... It is complex. It looks perfectly straightforward at first sight. The funding is direct from the Biology Division of the V.M.R.I., but .... but there is no accountability. The thread goes back from there to the Institute itself and then fragments into nominal accounts that link back to the Venumar Foundation. And some of these these links have been used on other occasions as a vehicle for the receipt of such funding.”

“I don't follow it. Don't begin to understand it.”

“You're not supposed to Anne. I don't either and so have probably got it wrong anyway. The accountant who tried to explain it was herself confused. It's labyrinthine and designed to remain so. Basically though the project is financed by monies filtered through Grace de Messembry's private holding company and such monies may well originate, totally or partially, from government, or indeed governments.”

“Governments?”

“Quite probably governments. The variety of sources, of threads, suggest different donor currencies. But we don't really know.”

David's mind whirled in ever expanding, ever decreasing, circles. He drank the rest of his gin without tasting it. Anne got up and poured replenishments.

“But they can't condone what happens? What happened to me in Reception and later in the Holding Wing .... and .... and here? For Christ's sake they can't condone what happens in Rehabilitation!”

“Of course they can't Sophie dear, or rather couldn't if they knew about it.”

“But Emma they must know. If they are funding it. They can't believe we are all volunteers .... there wouldn't be any point ....”

“ They can believe exactly what they want to believe dear. 'Where the apple reddens never pry, lest we lose out Edens, Eve and I ....' is the favourite quotation of politicians and their advisers. They bring the art of not knowing to new levels of perfection.”

“But Emma ....”

“No Sophie dear, it doesn't matter,” Anne interrupted. “It's like the 'bare branches'. None of it really matters in the here and now. What does matter is getting you out of here. Concentrate on that and that alone.”

“But it puts it on a different plane. If I get out ....”

“A bridge to cross later. What my news really was, and was is more relevant to you Sophie, is that on that evening will be held a dance. For everyone. Although I suppose the Minister will be whisked back to London by helicopter and already safely tucked up in bed with his hot water bottle and rent boy by the time it gets under way.”

“Relevant to me Emma?”

“It will be a big dance. Properly speaking a fully fledged ball with a band, bare shoulders, and beaux. On the 30th. September so we have exactly ten days to prepare. Ten days to find exactly the right gown and the right partner. Important for you more than anyone Sophie because you must be seen to be so excited and committed that no-one could be in any doubt that you relish this chance to parade your new boobs in the lowest off-the-shoulder creation available, lest ....”

“... lest they suspect that you have also ten days to prepare for not being there.” finished Anne excitedly.

“Clever girl! Don't you see Sophie it is an ideal opportunity? Getting out is one thing but you will desperately need time to get as far away as possible. Being found a couple of hundred yards away and then dragged back in chains would be a poor reward for all the thought and effort Anne and I are putting into this.”

“And with an influx of people arriving, and eventually departing, the band, caterers, wives, partners, florists, you name it, security arrangements will be in turmoil.” Said Anne. “And afterwards ....”

“.....And afterwards when everyone is pursuing their individual goals of romance, lust, and drink no-one will be wondering where Sophie is and afterwards .....”

“And afterwards.” Anne took up the baton again. “Nursing hangovers and trying desperately to remember what they had done, and with whom, and whether whoever it was could themselves remember with any greater accuracy, no-one is going to have your whereabouts as a priority. Not until lunchtime at the very earliest.”

So we have a deadline,” said Emma. “September 30th. In 10 days time. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” said Anne.

“Agreed,” said David. But his mind was preoccupied with speculation on the possibility of government involvement. If true how much did they know of the reality of what was happening, of what had happened, to the girls in the transgender project? Whatever the truth was they would certainly not want to hear it. Would not allow it to be heard. Escape in ten days time seemed a pipe dream. The ball would not take away the perimeter cable nor cut the electricity supply. The security guards would not be tripping the light fantastic. More likely they would be on heightened alert because of it.

“And your other snippet?”

Anne's voice was heard but the words passed by him. He felt a great gratitude towards them both. Feared that killing himself would seem to them ungracious, a slap in the face even. Feared that perhaps they liked him too much and would suffer too much by his death. Wished in a way that they hadn't complicated his decision, making him feel guilty.

Even if he did escape they would lose him. In a way the best outcome for them would be to keep alive in him the hope of freedom, the hope of regaining himself, his masculinity. A hope that would give him solace right up to the moment when he finally faded through the looking glass to emerge on the other side as Sophie. A Sophie that they would seamlessly welcome and embrace, as she herself would then welcome and embrace her future.

And he knew that the thought was unworthy. That they both truly wanted for him to be himself as he would himself define it. Whether feasible or not, they subscribed to this ambition and would do all that they could to help him realise it. Even if it meant losing him. Even if he himself was losing faith in it.

“But we know that already, we were talking about it in the restaurant this evening. About them being called 'novitiates'. We hadn't realise we were quite so nun-like.”

David dragged himself out of his reverie and surfaced slowly back to an awareness of the ongoing conversation.

“Yes Anne but did you know that Coralie will be in the intake?”

“Coralie? But of course .... she must be due..... How is she?” There was concern in Anne's voice.

“It is difficult to say. Both Laura and I think that perhaps she is not ready to come into the wider community here but.... but what else can we do with her. She can't stay at the Holding Wing indefinitely.”

“What do you mean? 'Not ready'”

Emma sighed. “Most of the time she is fine. Fully embracing her femininity. Enthusiastically so. Perhaps too enthusiastically so. “ Here she glanced at David. “But it all seems so very artificial and ....”

She paused, worry creasing her brow.

“... and sometimes she relapses into a private reverie. Unreachable in her own world. Catatonia is perhaps too strong a description .... but it is worrying.”

“Poor girl. We will make a special effort with her, won't we Sophie dear. It is the least we can do.”

“Yes Anne we will. I owe her that. I in particular owe her that.”

And again he heard, echoing through the corridors of his memory, the dying fall of the cry 'My name is Martin'. Heard in its simple four words all the desperation and bewilderment of his own torment. And was ashamed, feeling his own cowardice at that time.

David looked at Emma and Anne. “I owe her in particular. I have always felt that I could have done more. That I did what they expected of me to bring her into line. I should have made more common cause with her, with him, then. If I had been braver then, perhaps she might have escaped Rehabilitation, perhaps she might ....”

“Too many perhaps's Sophie darling.” said Anne. “It happened as it happened. And it wasn't your fault. Everyone of us can always say in retrospect 'I could have done more' about practically every calamity but it doesn't help.”

Emma nodded in agreement. ”Coralie snapped and tried to knife Grace de Messembry. For that she was sent to Rehabilitation. It wasn't your fault Sophie.”

“I suppose not Emma, but ...” And David thought of the knife and how he had left it there.

“Do you sometimes wonder what would have happened if she had .... Regret perhaps that you managed to stop her?”

David smiled the smile of one who had already trod that mental path. “No Emma, that at least is straightforward. Firstly because the death of Grace de Messembry wouldn't have made any difference. Multi-national corporations don't close down profitable ventures because of the death of one person, albeit if that person be the instigator and driving force. The project would have rumbled on. Ministers still want to visit. It would just have been faceless. Although perhaps not even that. Just another face.”

“And secondly?”

“And secondly Anne, because killing people is wrong. I know why Coralie tried. And I might have done so too I suppose. An opportunity allied to frustration, hate, despair. Something snaps. And even if it doesn't, it's tempting. But I'm glad Coralie didn't succeed for her sake. And glad too the opportunity did not come my way, for my sake. For it would have diminished me and .... and ....”

David's voice faded away. He sat there staring, unseeing.

The two girls both rose and crouched down by his chair, arms outstretched to comfort by their touch.

“And .... and I have already been too much diminished.”

They hugged him close. Their perfumed softness wrapping him in sympathy.

“Ten days,” said Emma. “Ten days and then it will be different.”

But later as David sat at his dressing table, carefully stroking night moisturising cream onto his face in the patterns instilled in him by Mrs. Townsend, 'ten days' seemed more and more just an empty phrase. A slogan to comfort, to buffer him against reality. He had removed the bra holding his new breast forms, but had replaced the straps of his slip so that he could no longer see the swellings of his breasts, his now prominent nipples surrounded by their spreading areolae. Out of sight out of mind. Only of course they weren't. The cups of the slip were manifestly not quite empty, the silken material betraying the nipples' contours, contours that were themselves made more prominent by the soft mounds from which they rose. And at every movement of his arms, of his body the gentle friction of the material brought home to him their new-found sensitivity.

And they were only at their beginning. Ten days would perhaps not make much difference, even if Simon had said that the new hormone preparations had explosive results once started, but what of the days, the weeks after that? Even if free, could he stop their growth or would he be slavishly bound by addiction to ingest the hormones that ensured the femininity of their curves? Of his curves. Of his other curves on hips and bottom. In themselves less sensational perhaps but softly complementing his transformation.

Perhaps he should stop now? Not take any more? Test out the severity of the addiction. But they would surely know. He was being monitored. And there would be physical symptoms surely? And mental ones too? And if they knew at best he would have no further choice, and at worst ....? Don't even think about it..

David shuddered and the silken fabric of the slip moved seductively over his nipples. And the nipples themselves, as if pleased by the attention showed to them, responded to the caress.

And the last thing he wanted in the next ten days was to have the complication of a fight against withdrawal symptoms.

Not that it made any difference really. It was all so unrealistic. The chances of escape were negligible. And even if he did get away, where would he go? And as what? As a man or as a woman? His bank account, his credit cards, his driving licence, even his official identity was now female. Damn it he looked more female than male. If he could still hide his nascent tits and hack off his hair, his extravagantly arched eyebrows would still betray him. His way of walking, all his gestures, were feminine now. Engrained in him. Moreover he knew that he himself, at his very core, was now invaded by thoughts of femininity they had implanted there. Consciously and sub consciously. Until he himself, deep down, no longer knew.... could no longer be sure.....

David felt desperately tired. Longed for the sleep that would bring his mind relief from this ever circling questioning. A night's respite from the unanswerable questions and worries that plagued his waking thoughts. To sink into the warm relaxing world of dreams, full, as they always were these nights, of that gentle, floating, comforting, femininity in which he could finally find peace.

But first, before he could pass through that gateway, before he could find the solace sleep brought, there was one final waking chore to perform.

He opened the drawer at the bottom of his wardrobe and, drawing out his Oral Gratification Training Aid, he carefully inserted a new cartridge into its base.....

Notes:

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