Dragons, Fairies, and Elves, Oh My!

My hair streamed behind me and my gossamer wings fluttered in the slipstream as I hitched a flight from Bahadur Azi Dahaka, dragon warrior of the Mountains of the Summer Snows.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional. Transgender themes and other mature themes are included within. If you would be offended by these, please don’t continue! I, the author, reserve the right repost this work As always, I am very aware of the wonderful group of proofers that take my rough-hewn ideas and sand it smooth, turning it into a readable story, thank you Hope, Janet, and Paula. Special thanks to Holly who although she was very busy took the time to look over this for me. There may still be errors in the following but they are mine as I am still learning how to send and receive documents in different formats.

Fairies, Dragon’s, and Elves Oh My!
By Grover

My hair streamed behind me and my gossamer wings fluttered in the slipstream as I hitched a flight from Bahadur Azi Dahaka, dragon warrior of the Mountains of the Summer Snows. Perched precariously on the snout of my huge scaly companion, I squealed in delight as he playfully rolled on to his back as he dove though the clouds beneath us towards the forest of Baron Gillespie.

I could feel Azi’s rumble of delight as he left vapor trail vortices in his wake. I felt the tingles when he invoked a spell and his velocity suddenly doubled. Needless to say, all the stimuli were delightfully pleasant on various areas of my fairy avatar.

Working my VeMotion display, I zoomed out from first person to the “chase view.” Using my input gloves, I selected properties to save the sequence for my desktop and screensaver. Another deft movement and I was back in first person as Azi pulled some healthy Gs (G-forces/ acceleration from gravity) as he flashed over the treetops.

God! I love flying! The baron’s eagle riders quickly grew from specks to armed warriors as Azi demonstrated that as fearsome as they were; a match for him, they were not. It was his way of keeping the uneasy truce between the baron’s riders and himself. If it came down to a fight, he wanted them rattled, knowing they would be facing a fearsome opponent.

Blinking urgently in the corner of my visor was a not so subtle sign the rest of my fellow adventurers was growing impatient. Smeg! Can’t they just let a girl and her dragon have a little fun?

Noting that Bob, our multi-talented producer, hadn’t sent out his “Hey let’s move along” prompt, meant that he was still getting some great set up scenes for our web-cast. We were very lucky to have Bob as our producer, director, and everything else guy.

He had a very real gift with computers and the AM’s (Artificial Morons) which let him pull live sequences from my fellow players as we played “Dragon’s Gate: At Swords Point” MMOG (Multi-Player Massive On-line Game). AM’s had made computing easier, but the super-smart AI (Artificial Intelligences) from science-fiction was still a dream.

Don’t get me wrong! AM’s are great because they can follow verbal directions, but idiot savants are still idiots! It takes a special person to act as a conductor for a group of AM’s and Bob, as our ratings proved, was one of the best in the business, for all that he had been an unknown before we managed to find him.

I was tempted to continue “hogging” the spotlight, but Azi was already winging it back to meet the rest of the guys. Sighing, I reflected that my scaly friend had a better sense of preserving the peace among our party than I.

***

I’m often asked in the forums how Azi and I got involved in web ‘casting, and how we had such cool avatars for our characters. In truth, it was all luck! We made a great team and were very high on the board of top players. A friend of a friend got us mentioned to the company’s advertising and once we found Bob to produce, the rest was history.

Oh, our avatars? Well in the old days they were just generic looking figures called sprites by programmers. With the increase of processing power and by using motion mapping programs somewhat like those used by the movie “Polar Express,” an advanced web-camera can make your game character seem to speak and have facial expressions. This advancement made playing a lot more fun, and also made it a lot more interesting to watch.

With the sponsorship of the company and other advertisers, we could afford to have our tech guru, Bob, design graphics for our sprites that specialized our avatars for us, making us even more one of a kind than the customizing program that came with the “Dragon’s Gate” game.

***

Leaning out from Azi’s snout, I shouted out, “Adventurers, HO!” Down below I could see our impatiently waiting group. There was Galidor Neharma, our elfin ranger with that smegging bow of his that I disliked so much. Next to the tall ironwood mail clad elf was Danar, the war-mage, with his gryphon in full battle regalia. Dressed in leathers so he could still cast spells, the human made a startling contrast to the priestess, Rain. With her loose robes and rainbow colored scarves, her lack of weapons might have made her seem harmless. Rain didn’t need weapons or armor, for devotees of the Storm Goddess were weapons, as many unfortunates had learned to their woe.

Dwarfing everyone else Balthazar, the half-ogre paladin to the God of War, sat astride his mammoth dire-horn mount. The huge unicorn-like dire-horn, with its ivory plates trimmed and polished, gleamed in disparity with the paladin’s lacquered blood red Gothic armor.

Lastly, there’s me! Crystal the extraordinary! Fairy sorceress, spy, and friend of dragons, but right now, rebel against Duke Ironforge. Standing only a foot high, I am a mistress of magic, and an agent of the Lost Prince Charlie. Outfitted in enchanted silks from far Cathay and bearing a sliver of the broken enchanted Sword of Kings, re-forged by dragon’s fire into a blade fit for my hand, called “Fang,” I am a formidable foe in spite of my stature.

If you think that our group sounds a little “over the top” you’ll be right! That’s what has made “Dragon’s Gate” one of the most popular MMOG on the web.

***

After our traditional greetings, we went to the grove where it had been arranged for us to meet with the dear baron. It had taken me weeks to convince him to ally with us against Duke Ironforge.

Officially, it would be Balthazar who would sign the treaty in the name of the Lost Prince, but Azi and I were the ones who made it happen. Well maybe “forgetful” might the better title for the prince, since Duke Ironforge’d had his court wizard cast a spell of forgetfulness on the young prince when he overthrew the king.

Wanting to keep the prince “on ice”, as it were, harmless but near at hand, the duke had used him as a stable boy at one of his estates. However, fate intervened and the lost prince recovered his memory thanks to a certain fairy sorceress. Hey, it makes a better story and sells more expansions, (Game Expansion Modules), raising the price of the stock for the stockholders!

The twist here was, as spy-mistress, I knew the baron had also been entertaining representatives of the duke. The possibility of betrayal was high, and all of us had enemies who would cheerful collect the high bounties on our heads, for our heads!

At first, all was going well until our dear ranger fired an arrow into the baron’s captain of guards. I don’t know how Galidor got his hands on that smegging bow and all of the enchantments on it, but it never misses. Why game administration lets him keep it, is beyond me. Just because I’ve heard similar complaints about my “Fang”, is beside the point.

Bare steel was drawn and to quote the Bard, ‘Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!’ Balthazar’s black blade left a trail of gore behind him, while Azi and Danar dueled with the baron’s eagle riders with fire and steel above. Rain sang lightning bolts from the suddenly stormy skies, causing much chaos among the metal clad knights.

Galidor’s bow sang as soldier after soldier fell to his deadly aim, and I drew my saber patterned “Fang.” Flying in a mad charge into the makeshift formation of soldiers, I slashed though their armor as if it was naught but cloth. Soon, what had been a defensive formation fell apart, as they tried to defend themselves from my wickedly dangerous little “Fang.”

The baron’s shattered forces retreated, dragging the wounded guard captain behind them, while above the eagle riders flew for their lives from Rain’s storm as well as away from Azi and Darius.

I don’t believe that treachery had been intended, because if it was, the baron would have been better prepared against foes of our caliber. We have enemies that would have paid him for a chance at us. Apolla, the golden dragon for one, has a standing offer of a ton of gold bullion for Azi’s and my hides. Who would’ve thought that she would have taken the loss of her hoard so personally?

As high level as we are, the baron had no chance against us with the forces he had arrayed against us here. What sucked, was the long term consequences of what Galidor did by breaking the truce. The odds of our getting cooperation from the other nobles were now practically nil.

It didn’t help that Galidor annoyed the crap out me! Whoever his player was, had milked the rules for every advantage he could find and then made up some new ones. Everyone wants to have a smegging powerful character, but please, some restraint! On top of that, he must have Attention Deficient Syndrome, because if he doesn’t have something to do, Galidor starts something, usually trouble.

I don’t care if his polls with viewers say he is almost as popular as Azi and I! We had worked hard for this alliance, and now it, along with a good part of the baron’s troops, lay bleeding on the ground!

It’s just as well I don’t know who was playing Galidor, because if I did, I would do something he would regret. Alas, like MMOGs from the past like Worlds of Warcraft and Everquest, I had no idea who he was, or even if Galidor was a he.

The advent of newer technology allowed higher bandwidths, making games like Dragon’s Gate with inductors possible, which overshadowed the older games. Inductors? Where have you people been?

Ok, inductors are electronic “pads,” usually attached to video-glasses on your temples, that let you feel sensations from the game, a little like those force-back devices from the old days that would shake and rattle in reaction to game situations. High end ones like mine will even let you smell and taste, along with touch.

The intensity of the experience is very low and even violent blows feels like you are just being touched firmly. There is only so much sensation the pads can safely generate. For more, you need to have interface implants that, while they aren’t experimental anymore, take some serious moolah. They can make you feel full sensory feedback, but of course they have all sorts of safety thresholds. I mean, who wants to become a “wire-head”, addicted to a button for pleasure?

***

Together with the new technology, Dragons Gate was about as close as you could come to the old concept of Virtual Reality. It had a huge following and this hadn’t escaped big business. There was money to be made, and what started life off as innocent as a web-‘cast just for fun soon attracted advertisers and sponsors. Like all such efforts, some were hilarious because they were trying to be serious, while others were actually pretty smegging good.

Big stars we weren’t by any means, but the extra bucks from our sponsors and promotional gimmicks help keep my equipment first rate with the latest game expansions, and let me put some aside as well.

I suppose I could have hit the professional gamers' circuit pioneered by legends like Faltil1ty and Lee Ji-Hun, but this way I get to keep my anonymity.

You see, Crystal, my fairy folk character, is very obviously female and I am not. Nope, born male and pardon to all the gents out there, not very happy about it.

It wasn’t till I started playing female characters that I noticed how much happier and relaxed I was portraying myself as a woman. It didn’t happen overnight but eventually I came to accept that Mrs. Smith’s little boy would rather be Mrs. Smith’s little girl.

However Mrs. Smith, my mom, wasn’t so thrilled with the news and the rest of my family didn’t deal with it very well either. Along with my love of flying, it made me a pariah. Everyone else in my family has this horrid fear of heights and why I was different, I can’t begin to tell you. Maybe it was looking up out of my window at night at the dustings of stars and imagining the freedom of being among them.

That was one reason, among many, that prompted my move from my birthplace in the Deep South to sunny California. If you want to know more, look it up on the web under transgender. We have a lot of other stuff to cover.

Needless to say, I really didn’t want every Tom, Dick, and Harriet to rub my nose in my uniqueness, not yet, anyways. That’s why a part of every check goes to my special account reserved for my nanotech transformation.

Yep, Nano-technology the miracle machines of science fiction. The very tiny robots called nanites, or nanos for short, can take apart and build things at the cellular level or even smaller. Billions of them working together can change the world, accomplishing projects that would take us weeks or months, in just a few hours.

I mean, sure, Sri Lanka had scared the smeg out of everyone. The whole world, courtesy of CNN, watched the nano-plague the press called the “Devourer” spread across the Asian island. But nanites are a genie that can’t be stuffed back into its bottle.

Watching it, many doomsday pessimists warned of the tiny machines tearing everything apart and building more of themselves in a kind of perpetual motion machine that would result in what they called the Gray Ooze prophecy, leaving Earth as a lifeless ball of nanites continually eating each other.

Well that didn’t happen. It twisted, half-melted and warped everything it touched, so mostly it was just a horrible way to die. I do mean everything, too, from the rocks to the tops of the trees and all in between. Barely a half-percent of the population survived, most with crippling injuries and a very few with astounding talents.

India and Pakistan both had nuclear weapons, and a blind woman could see that fear was pushing them into using them to “cleanse” Sri Lanka before the “Devourer” got into the Indian Ocean biosphere. Knowing that the weapons India and Pakistan had were of the “dirty” variety, the Western World, led by the United States, volunteered to use the cleanest possible “devices” they had to do the job.

I know, in afterthought, everyone is always saying that we didn’t have to use the nukes. After all, a blast of high-magnetism would have done the job just as well, but when the whole world was scared shitless, you figure the odds.

Today’s nano docs can do a lot more than the old surgical procedures could even dream. Still, there are limits to what they can do. While they can build a womb, and uterus, they can’t make eggs. I will be able to bear children but will need have to have an egg donor, and it’ll need to be implanted. Sold!

What hasn’t changed from the traditional procedures, is the cost. I needed every penny I could scrounge, and that meant working a “day” job and my moonlighting hobby of web-casting. California is a lot more tolerant than where I grew up, but after considering how my family reacted, I decided why chance it?

***

I was reading Bob’s notes as they scrolled across the bottom of my vision in the chat box. “Hello, Beautiful, don’t chew up Galidor too badly because we need him for Wednesday’s ‘cast.”

Like a good girl, I promised Bob that I wouldn’t bitch too much at our ranger. He just knew me too well, sometimes.

That didn’t stop me from starting an angry chat with Galidor about his uncalled for attack on the baron’s captain. I know that Bob had good reasons for wanting him in the ‘cast but I’d worked hard on that treaty!

I signed off in the middle of his reply. Hey, I know I was being a bitch, but I do it so well! Not only that, but some of us have to work mornings, and I need to have my five hours of sleep to fake being awake. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

***

Silicon Valley has grown and shrunk in cycles, and now, with nanotech taking off and stocks doubling every couple months, the valley was once more booming. With the astronomical costs of living in the valley, I was renting a trailer that at least gave a little privacy.

I bet you’re waiting for me to tell you that I’m a programmer, or a developer of some sort. No such luck, jokers. I work in a warehouse in inventory control. I walk around all day long with my handheld computer tracker, double check orders and inventory. If I see a trend of items getting depleted that the computers missed I forward it up to the front office. Really exciting? No. Does it pay the bills? Yes. Can be done while half-asleep? You betcha!

“Hey, Tex,” shouted one of my co-workers, Frank. One of my burdens of being from the Deep South and living in California was if you have a southern drawl, somehow that means you’re from Texas. Frank started working here a few months ago after leaving the Navy, and once he discovered that I played Dragon’s Gate, he decided that made us buddies or something. I don’t know which is worse, him badgering me to reveal my avatar’s name to him, or his unknowing critiques of my performance in the ‘cast.

Now, I’m not about to tell him any of that, so I’m left with biting my tongue. Add to it that he is always going on about how “HOT” the chick playing Crystal must be, and it just gets to be too much sometimes, sister!

***

So how popular is Dragon’s Gate? Back in the old days when the expansion “Burning Crusade” for Worlds of Warcraft came out, it broke all sorts of records for PC (Personnel Computer) games sold and for the number of people who missed work the next day.

When “At Swords Point,” the expansion for Dragon’s Gate, was released it broke all of those records. I’m not saying everyone plays, but here in the valley, the day after the release it looked like someone had declared a holiday.

***

“Tex, Galidor the Elf Lord says he’s going to reveal Crystal the fairy’s real identity on tomorrow’s web-cast,” Frank told me while I sat in the employee break room enjoying a cold soda.

“What!?” I choked out spraying soda all over myself.

Fortunately, Frank was clueless at the real reason for my distress, or he would’ve seen all the blood draining from my face in shock.

Enjoying my discomfort, he went on. “On the forums this morning, Galidor posted, that he didn’t have to put up with her little tantrums. He said that he’d been a secret admirer for sometime, but her bitching at him last night was enough.”

Leaving Frank gloating at causing me to make a mess, I went into the restroom to clean up and above all hide the shakes. I was more than a little upset at the possibility of being “outed”. It was possible I could loose my job here, and my ratings for the ‘cast could drop. “Crystal’s adventures” was my big money maker, and that ass Galidor could cause me to get booted from that, too, if the sponsors complained.

Splashing water on my face, I did my best to compose myself and face more of Frank’s excuse for humor. I bet someone is saying ‘hey, it’s just a game, right?’ Let me tell you that back in the nineties, when people started killing each other over “items” that existed only in make-believe games, everyone thought that was strange.

With more people playing and socializing on-line. on-line connected crimes became even more common. Yes, there had even been murders when some lunatic couldn’t take it that their dream-lover didn’t match the reality. So here is Galidor, who says he’s a secret admirer and he’s going to “out” me? Crap!

The rest of the day sucked, because along with being short of sleep, now I was so nervous I could barely function. Once I got home, I emailed Bob about Galidor’s threat, and doubled checked my intrusion software to make sure it hadn’t been breached. My security looked good, but I upgraded my firewall anyways.

With that done, I contracted Azi by chat and unloaded the day’s problems onto him. He, being the good friend he had always been, cheerfully listened and lifted my spirits. We didn’t know each other’s actual identities, but we had been on-line gaming partners, it seemed like, forever.

I guess it was just my being afraid of how he would react if he knew I was really a guy, so I had adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. His friendship was one I valued very much, and if I was being a coward about telling him about myself, so be it.

The next two days, I’m telling you sister, were not a lot fun. Frank was even more annoying than usual, and that is saying something. All he wanted to talk about was Galidor’s threat to “Out” Crystal, and that was the last thing I wanted to think about, much less talk about. What did it take for Frank to get the hint that I don’t want to be his friend?

Wednesday night I was holding my breath, waiting for Galidor to make good his threat. Prior to the game I had a good talk with Azi that calmed my nerves somewhat, and I made it though the ‘cast okay. I think the worst part was that I couldn’t enjoy the sensations of flight via my inductors very much, because I was so on edge.

We got to the end of the ‘cast and I was beginning to think I had managed to dodge the “bullet” that is until I got the nasty-gram. Galidor PM’ed me. In short, he knew that I was a guy and where I lived. That fact made him sick, and he would “fix” me, but good.

I’m telling you sister, that the acid boiling away in my tummy almost made me throw up on the spot! I was going to copy and send a copy of that nasty-gram to Bob when the entire message ate itself! There simply wasn’t a record that I had received a message at all.

Having no proof that Galidor was threatening me with more than just bad words, I really couldn’t complain to Bob about it. After taking a handful of antacids, I had no choice but to PM Galidor back and try to defuse this sorry mess.

I politely pointed out that at no time had I ever intentionally misled anyone. I had gotten annoyed at him because of his actions; although I understood that he was just playing his character.

Apologizing, I pointed out that it was in everyone’s interest to just relax. The show’s ratings were important to keep our sponsors happy and this dispute wasn’t helping. ‘Please, please let’s not let our “dislike” of each other spoil the opportunities that our ‘cast program gives us.’

With my fingers crossed I hit the send key. A little later I got a reply that said only “OK”. I really didn’t know if that was good or bad, but at least it seemed that he wasn’t going to do something stupid, I hope!

The next day at work once more I was greeted with the dreaded “Hey Tex” from Frank. “Have you seen the web-cast forums from last night?”

Wearily I shook my head no, knowing that Frank would tell me in all of its gruesome glory the latest gossip.

“Galidor posted late last night that he and Crystal had come to an understanding. He said she had apologized to him saying she had been a bitch and wanted to make it up to him. I wondered if she slept with him?” Frank said with a leer in his voice.

I ran to the restroom, and locked myself in a stall while I alternated between wanting to kill both Galidor and Frank or just crying. I wasn’t sure why I was so emotional, but it was probably just a combination of stress and not sleeping well.

It said good things about my other co-workers, that they did notice that I was having a problem, and sent someone in to find out if I was alright. Hidden behind the stall door I told my more civilized co-worker that I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me.

I had gotten myself mostly together, but Jim, my supervisor, hunted me down to find out for himself how I was. It was good to know that I was valued enough for him to bother. Yeah, I shouldn’t talk that way about myself, I know, but my self-esteem was taking a bit of a beating this week.

Apparently I wasn’t fooling anyone, as Jim took one look at me and told me that he would clear some “sick” time with the front office, and for me to go home and rest. I protested, but he made it clear to me that I would be getting some paid “sick” time, and he knew I hadn’t used any of my “sick” or “vacation” days yet.

Not being able to argue with his kindness, I gathered up my stuff and went home. Maybe I was coming down with something other than stress and the usual lack of sleep, because when I lay down, I slept for most of the rest of the day.

When I got up, I knew that indeed, somehow I had caught a cold or something. My sinuses were stuffed and I had an itchy throat. Fixing some food, I found that some smegging hacker had crashed the Dragon’s Gate servers. A polite message from tech support said that the backups should be up soon, and three days would be added to all active subscriptions as compensation.

Disgusted with the entire week, I chatted online with Azi, along with some other on-line friends for a while and caught some footage of NASA's latest moon landing at Shackleton Crater before heading back to bed nurse my ailing body.

I woke up in wet, sticky sheets, and so weak I could hardly move. Reluctantly pulling myself upright on the edge of the bed, I made my stuffy head focus on what had awakened me. It was the first time that I’d ever been “stopped up” this badly. I couldn’t breathe very well, and my eyes were glued shut.

Croaking, “Yuk,” I pulled the Kleenex box over to help with my runny nose and the “nasty stuff” I was coughing up. Finally being able to see, it was even grosser than I had thought. The ill-looking goop was all over me! My silly inner little voice exclaimed, “I’ve been slimed!” quoting the old classic movie “Ghost Busters.”

I’ve never heard of someone, excuse the expression, of sweating snot from their pores before, but I even had it in my hair, and needless to say, coughing it up in muscle tearing convulsions. Even my bladder was getting in on the act and demanding that I go to the bathroom. Now!

Stumbling feebly from my ruined bedding, everything seemed out of kilter. The room appeared to be bigger, and my legs were refusing to work quite right. Having trouble balancing, I had to lean on the wall to aid me in getting to the bathroom. Not bothering to stand, I sat down on the toilet grateful to able to make it without any accidents.

Blearily, I could make out that it was a little before five AM, before my body demanded my attention back. My bowels and bladder released followed by the most awful gut-wrenching cramps I’ve ever had. On top of that, I felt my gorge “rising” and just barely managed to grab the small trashcan in the bathroom before puking my guts out.

No, I mean that for real, sister! I know what I had to eat the last couple of days and the unmentionables that were coming up out of me weren’t among them. It was the old cliché of “All exits are open, no pushing, no shoving!”

My eyes were trying to glue themselves shut again as I gingerly got my bottom part cleaned. My “boy” parts were very tender, and it felt like I was peeing battery acid. If I hadn’t already heaved, the smell alone would have made me want to, all over again.

Pulling myself to the sink, I tried to cleanup a little. My skin was very sensitive and felt feverish. Yep, to say I was getting worried that something was seriously wrong, would be an understatement.

That was when the screaming started from outside. With the aid of the wall again I got to the window of my trailer. As I looked out I realized that the screaming was actually a siren.

Wishing I hadn’t looked, I saw an army Hummer with a set of those big civil defense speakers on top slowly making its way though the trailer park. What froze my blood was the walking escort of soldiers in bulky chemical defense suits with weapons, and the Nanotech hazard sign of a globe of orange dots on a field of safety yellow that they all bore.

Shocked fully awake, I could now hear other sirens in the distance. Now I know someone is going to point out that the Santa Clara Valley doesn’t have a civil defense network. That was before the Sri Lanka Accords that required it of every area with a nanotech factory or research facility.

I suspect that if the government had its way, we would be in the middle of the Nevada nuclear test ranges, but failing that, had legislated the smeg out of it, instead.

Teetering, I got to my TV to find out more and sit down before I fell down. One of the local anchors were on and it was very obvious that he was scared crap-less. “CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has issued an alert concerning the possible release of a hazardous nanotech device. Please remain calm and stay home until advised that the “all clear” has been given.”

“The alert was called because, several patients admitted last night to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, exhibited symptoms that were consistent with extreme nano-transformations. Testing teams are trying to confirm or deny the presence of any hazardous materials, but the Governor of California, with the approval of DHS has declared Martial Law.”

Remain calm!?!? There were nearly three million people in the Santa Clara valley area, and San Francisco wasn’t far away either. The last time this had happened, the powers that be, NUKED the place! Remembering the horrific pictures from Sri Lanka of people melting and twisting into god-awful shapes, I hobbled at my best speed for the bathroom mirror.

The best time to examine yourself is not while puking and crapping on yourself. Now, I pried my eyes open and was really looking. My face had always been very male, but now it could easily pass for a woman’s face. The brown hair I had been born with, was now longer and fuller, with auburn highlights.

Big green eyes looked back at me, rather than the gray ones I had looked at only the day before. Not only that, but they seemed unnaturally large. I could see very little white around the edges, and the irises appeared more elliptical than the round they should be.

Holding my breath, I brushed my hair away so I could get a good look at my ears and sure ‘nuff they were becoming pointy. What was going on here? Was I turning into an elf or something? Examining my chest carefully, my boy nipples had grown, like those of a young girl in puberty.

Cupping my budding breasts in my hands, I didn’t know whether to cry in joy, or horror at the changes being made to me. I don’t think I can explain how I felt; terrified that I was being transformed by a force that could so easily kill me, or grateful that somehow I was now closer to the person I really was inside.

It took me awhile to start my brain working again. Not everyone on Sri Lanka had died or been crippled, and San Francisco was part of the good ole’ US of A, so Uncle Sam will at least think twice about nuking the place. Besides, with the number of people commuting into the Santa Clara Valley, it was likely the nano was already spreading outside of it.

Remembering what I knew about nano-transformations, it seemed like the best idea was to treat this like the flu. Nanos, like any machine building something, needed raw materials. I would need plenty of fluids and easy to digest food, so soup was a good choice. Normally, in a hospital, the nutrient rich fluids would be given in IVs, but after checking my weight and being surprised at losing almost thirty pounds overnight, I decided that I had better eat something.

Once I started eating, I had a hard time stopping, and let’s not talk about the strange cravings that started. Whatever was happening to me hadn’t stopped yet, because I still had, what did the medical professionals call it, discharge? I had nasty crap running out of my nose and eyes, as well as coughing it up. Yet all the while, I was stuffing my face with potato chips covered in veggie oil and peanut butter, urk!

The terrified TV anchor had been replaced by someone else who had it a little more together, but he was giving mostly the same message. What had changed was they were calling it a nano-virus. It was different from the “Devourer”, in that it was targeting just us humans, while the “Devourer” had eaten everything, mineral, plant, and animal.

“If you think you’ve been infected, don’t panic! Officials are conducting a house by house inspection. Please be prepared to leave your home if an evacuation is called for, blah, blah, blah.” The only thing they said that made sense, was to pack an over-night bag and making sure you have identification with you.

Getting dressed might be a good start, but I was still slimed. As far as I could tell, the slime was just a byproduct of my change, and not part of it, like a chrysalis or anything. I decided to risk a shower. I was concerned about contamination getting into the water system, but it was too late for that, considering all of the nasty stuff I’d already flushed earlier.

It felt so good to get clean, and the warm water vapor helped me breathe easier. I washed myself gently, and was glad I was cautious. My skin was really sensitive, and my “boy” parts were very much so.

Now clean, I examined myself carefully, and found I was developing a hunch back. A large lump was forming, and it really itched. Thinking maybe I should’ve left the slime, I located a tape measure. Smeg, I was shrinking! Six inches of my previous five foot eleven was gone.

Being shorter wasn’t that big a deal, but the smegging hunch-back thing most certainly was. Feeling sorry for myself, and depressed, I started crying. Modern medical nano-tech might be able to correct some of this, but the changes I was seeing were extreme.

I knew exactly what I would have looked like as a woman, due to computer sims and my transformation pre-scans. I had “tweaked” some things, because a girl does have her vanity after all, but this person I was turning into wasn’t me. I could see a girl looking back at me, but not the woman I wanted to be.

Hearing a beeping from my computer, I saw that I had a message from Azi, who was very worried about me. Opening up chat, he said the news had gone national, and knowing I was in California, he’d wanted to check on me.

Having to type a little slowly because of my now slender but shorter fingers, I told Azi that I was definitely infected, but okay so far. He said that a media lock-down was in effect, and phones were out due to the Martial Law order.

Even on the Internet it had been hard to reach me, but he had worked around some of the blockages. He asked if I had anyone to contact in an emergency, and I told him no. What he wanted next, shocked me. Azi wanted to come to me!

He was no more than an hour away, and with the panic and fear that he saw, Azi was concerned that the military would overreact and begin a cover-up or something. Fear was what had gotten Sri Lanka nuked and I could see his point. However, I didn’t want my friend to catch whatever I had, and I told him so, not to mention the quarantine and Martial Law.

His next inquiry also surprised me. He wanted me to show him what I looked like with my web-cam. My first reaction was a NO, but looking down at my breasts, I really didn’t look male anymore.

Well, I still had boy parts but they were very small and it was pretty clear that I would be sitting down to pee from now on. Azi said he wanted the pictures, so in a worst case scenario, it might help him find me if things got worse.

I was scared, and I remembered only too well the CNN coverage from Sri Lanka. It was comforting to talk with my friend, and I trusted him. I told him to hold on and I went to dress.

I did have a small collection of filly things, but, smeg it, they didn’t fit anymore. Oh well, it’s athletic clothes time. After making very sure that “Mister Winky” was well out of sight, I enabled my web-cam.

My face blushed scarlet, but I slowly turned so he could see all of me. I did pull up the back of my t-shirt so Azi could get pic’s of my hunch-back. I got my scales and measuring tape out and made sure that the camera got my current height and weight. Smeg, I was still loosing both, too, I saw with dismay.

Azi sent back that he had gotten what he needed. What I wasn’t expecting was the “You’re beautiful.”

Blushing again I typed back, “This isn’t me!”

He replied with, “You’ll be beautiful no matter what shape you’re in.”

After all of these years, this was the first time that he had seriously flirted with me, and it confused and pleased me at the same time. His timing could be better!

I told him I had to get an overnight bag ready in case I had to leave the trailer. Leaving the web-cam on, I went back to my bedroom to get my things ready. It didn’t take long to pack my toothbrush and a few other hygiene things.

The TV was still broadcasting the same old stuff, and it was on every cable channel, so it must still be set up on some sort of emergency network override thing. I really wished that I could find out how the rest of the world was taking this.

I went back to Chat with Azi and he was still on-line. He floored me again! “Do you know you’re looking a lot like your Crystal avatar?”

Typing back, “What?!” in denial.

He sent a graphics file of a picture of Crystal next to my web-cam picture side by side. Azi was right! ‘Hunch-back? Oh Crap! I’m growing wings?’

Shaking, I sent back, “You know this is not a good thing, right? Crystal is only a foot tall, and maybe in a world with magic, she has human normal intelligence or higher, but here in the real world, what’s the smartest animal with brains that small; birds, mice maybe?”

I started crying again, smeg it, and it took awhile for Azi to calm me down. He started going on about coming to me again, and I refused! “I don’t think that my turning into Crystal is a coincidence, seeing how the Dragon’s Gate server was taken down by a hacker last night. Think what would happen if you started changing into a dragon? That alone might kill you, not counting that our trigger happy army might start shooting!”

“Azi,” I told him, “I am GC Smith,” and gave him my address. He told me he was RB Saks and gave me contact numbers for him that I included with my ID stuff. It was easy to find an on-line form to name him my “official” contact person in case of emergency. It wouldn’t help much, but might let him get to see me if worst came to worst.

It was then that it hit me! “Azi!” I sent, “Galidor said he would “fix” me good. You don’t think he had anything to do with this do you?”

“Galidor threatened you?,” Azi asked.

“Well, in a way, but I thought that we had managed to “cool off” a little when it looked he would settle for humiliating me,” I replied.

“Crystal‘s avatar image is a custom piece. For a nano-transformation to just randomly come up with that image is next to impossible. It would be nice to know what the other victims are transforming into. If they are all like you, it would have to be someone like Galidor, because he does have a motive. Still, it would be insane to loose nanites in a population, to just to get revenge on one person,” Azi wrote back.

On that happy note, I left to pack my overnight bag with what meager clothing that would still fit. I had a few feminine articles. Finishing with my overnight bag, my grumbling stomach was demanding food again. It was just another of the contradictory feelings from this nano-bug, sick, but starving.

Maybe most bachelors don’t have much food in the house, but when you are trying to pinch every penny, you eat at home a lot. The strange food cravings continued and for your own peace of mind I’m going to leave that part out.

Cleaning up the mess I’d made in the kitchen, and trashing my ruined bedding helped distract me from my aches and pains. What was hurting most were the growing pains in reverse, in the bones of my legs, and hips. my arms hurt as well, but not as badly as the lower extremities. I was also developing hot, feverish feelings from my “hunchback”, where it looked like I was growing wings.

I took some generic acetaminophen, thinking that it couldn’t hurt at this point ,and was wondering if it would help if I wet some towels and laid across my back to help cool the “hunchback”, when I heard a sharp knock at the door and hobbled over to answer it. I was wearing a loose t-shirt and some stretchy exercise pants. In spite of that, I still looked like a little girl in her big brother’s sweat suit.

Looking out of the window, I saw one of those environmental suits, so I grabbed my bag when I opened the door. What I should have been thinking about was that those guys were just as scared as I was, but I was in too much discomfort at the time.

Then I heard the, “Oh Crap! She’s infected!”

Seeing how I was barely five foot tall now and had a very visible hunchback. No shit, Sherlock!

There was no way for me to tell how old the soldier was with the suit on, but the fear in his young sounding voice gave me some clues. What grabbed my attention was the scared way he was pointing his M-8A3 assault rifle at me! Slowly raising my hands palms out, I noticed my voice was changing too, but managed I think to say understandably, “I need help.”

I thought about turning around and locking the door of my trailer, but the nervous guy with the gun kept gesturing towards some school buses. Deciding that as jumpy as everyone was, my life was more important than my stuff in the trailer.

I wasn’t able to move very fast and I would’ve been bitching like smeg over this very un-cool kid with the gun, if I hadn’t been terrified out of my soon to be birdbrains.

Glancing up at the other passengers as I got close to the bus, I could see other victims of the nano-virus. They didn’t look, as I had feared, like my Crystal avatar, but they did have the fantasy motif thing going. I could see elves and other races from Dragon’s Gate game.

Walking even the short distance to the curb was exhausting for me. I could see other soldiers leading some that looked unaffected to tour/Greyhound buses, while those like me were going to school buses. Army Hawk Attack VTOLs (Vertical Take Off and Landing) circled overhead and Mule Medical Evacuation VTOLs were taking out those unable to walk.

I was struggling to get on board the bus when I saw another man with sergeant stripes on his environ suit. Even muffled by the suit, I could hear him use a colorful vocabulary gained over a life time to chew out my young friend with the gun.

He came up to me and helped me onto the bus. “Sorry about Private Jenkins, Ma’am. Please understand we’re all doing the best we can, but everyone is just as scared as you are.”

“Where are you taking us?” I asked self-consciously in my little girl’s voice.

“We’re using a high school as a triage center right now. I’m told doctors will see if it’s safe to kill your nanites with Hi-Mag. The good news is, right now it is only acting like a virus, so the Brass think we can contain this.” the sergeant told me gently. “No one is dying from this thing so far, so try and relax, Ok?”

I gave him a small nod and found a seat. Sitting down, I was relieved that Private Jenkins was the exception, and that sergeant was on top of things. At least we weren’t being shot out of hand.

Looking around at my fellow passengers, I was glad that Azi was not in this mess. There was a poor soul in the back changing into a minotaur, and he was in obvious distress. If Azi had started turning into a dragon, his chances of survival wouldn’t be very good, I fear.

Twisting around, I tried to get comfortable, but the tight feverish skin across my hunchback was just too tender. I ended up resting my forehead on the seat in front me and that helped a bit.

“Are you going to be okay?” a soft voice in front of me asked.

Glancing up I saw one of the elves I’d seen earlier, watching me with some concern. She had the usual elfin good looks, along with Asian like slanted eyes. I could see her irises were elliptical like mine, and she had the pointed ears as well. She, however, didn’t look to be growing wings.

Trying to be on my best behavior, after all, their bodies were being assaulted, too. I said, “It depends on how much more I shrink.”

The concern and sympathy in her voice made it hard to dislike her, even if I did feel like snapping someone’s head off. “Oh my, you’re changing into a fairy?”

Ironically remembering my family’s reaction when I told them that I was transgendered, I couldn’t help giggling, even though it hurt. They couldn’t understand the difference between wanting to be a woman, and being gay. Men were men, and women were women, and that was that, in their minds. Putting my past behind me, I nodded.

The elf said, “The more extreme the change, the more and longer you’re sick. I was just a little ill last night, but I actually feel better now than I have in years. Hmmm … Jil, my daughter had more of a problem. The good news is that we both are fine right now.” She introduced herself, “I’m Heather Giovannia. I was a nurse’s aid before I married, and had this one.” tossing her head at Jil.

Looking at the young elf girl next to Heather, I saw they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. Jil shared her mom’s elfish appearance, but while Heather was dealing with her changes well, Jil was anything but happy.

Piping in my high voice, “I guess you should call me Crystal.” I’ll never get used to sounding like this!

Heather raised one eyebrow that was so much like Leonard Nimoy’s that I gave a little giggle.

“You know, you really do look a lot like her don’t you? I mean, Crystal, from the 'Sword’s Point' ‘cast”, she said, blushing a little.

“I know, because I am … well, she was my avatar anyway.” I told her.

Startled she took my hand excitedly, “I can’t believe you live here. I thought that you guys were like movie stars.”

Thankful for the distraction from my discomfort, “Well, more like a reasonably successful garage band would be more like it. The extra money from the promotional stuff is nice, but we all have to have day jobs. At least I did. Know of anyone hiring one foot tall bird brains?” I asked, falling into depression again.

Heather did her Spock thing again with the eyebrows, “Bird brains?”

I explained my fear of shrinking so much that I would only have the brainpower of a bird, or maybe a mouse. It was plenty clear that some sort intelligent design was behind this. Maybe the plan had nanite augmentation in mind for the full transform, but the government would never allow active nanos out into the population. What a choice ,of Birdbrains or birdcage.

It was hard not to feel the almost physical fear and distress in that bus. The minotaur was growing horns out of his skull and plainly, the human skull wasn’t made for that. It was definitely causing him a lot pain and I could only imagine the mental distress.

Heather shook her head sadly, “I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve lost about thirty years and fifty pounds. Elves have always been my favorite fantasy race, and I don’t mind being one at all.”

Jil, her daughter, had risen from her apathy and was listening to us. I gestured at Jil, “Is she ok Heather?”

Heather hugged her daughter, who looked embarrassed “Jil has had a bit of a shock.”

“Mom!” Jil exclaimed, in a way that made me think that there was more going on, than on the surface, was concerned that her mom was going to say something more.

“Were you really Crystal from the web-cast?” Jil asked nervously.

I smiled at her, “Can’t you tell?” I asked Jil.

“But there’s a guy that lives in that trailer,” she barely whispered back.

As Jil was speaking, I could see the concern in her mother’s eyes and thought carefully about what I said next.

“Jil, I’m going to hazard a guess that you and your mom played elves, didn’t you?”

Heather and Jil looked and at other and nodded yes. “Yeah,” said Jil “My mom has always been elf crazy. I’ve seen those “Lord of the Rings” movies sooo … many times.

Her mom giggled, and Jil blushed, but kept speaking, “I had an elf ranger archer named Jiltanith, and my Mom has been playing this elf sorceress, like forever.”

“Well, I played a fairy sorceress and did a really good job at it. A lot of people thought that I really was a girl. What they thought, or believed doesn’t change who I really am. I’m much more concerned about dying than anything else. Besides, turning into something like our friend would brother me a lot more than just becoming a girl.” I said, gesturing politely at our minotaur in distress.

After a couple more changelings came on board, we started moving. We made some small talk, and I was thankful for the distraction from my problem. I was guessing that Jil had also been a guy not so long ago, because how self-conscious she was of everything.

“Jil,” I asked her, “Are you going by your avatar name because like me, your old one doesn’t fit anymore?”

She gave a little unwilling nod, and started crying softly. Heather hugged and comforted her child who was hurting. When she got her cry done, she whispered, “How do you stand it?”

“My hunchback is hurting enough that I’m really not noticing the rest yet. I’ve also shrunk at least a foot so far, and I’m worried more about that right at the moment.” I told her. “Hey it’s the truth!”

Jil thought about that for a second, “I’m sorry. I guess feeling sorry for myself, when everyone else is hurting so much worse, is stupid.”

I took her hand, “Jil, it is not silly! Something has attacked us, and forced us to become something we are not. The trick is to try and make the best of it we can right now.” Turning to Heather, “You have a good kid.”

Heather gave a sigh, “It hasn’t been easy of late, because her father is gone so much and teenagers are always having problems. I must admit that Jil and I are closer now, but I don’t think I could recommend turning sons into daughters as a solution.”

Jil let out another, “MOM!”

“Just think of all the shopping and beauty supplies,” Heather said teasingly, “it will cost a fortune.”

As Jil shuddered in horror, Heather and I couldn’t resist sharing a smile.

The bus pulled up to a high school that was crowded with military vehicles and tents. As we got off the bus, a person in a white environmental suit asked us to have our ID ready. While we had a picture taken of the new us, they ran a copy of our Id. Oh yeah, for those in obvious distress, they did a triage, for those who was still changing, like me, or were in immediate danger, like the minotaur.

What I could see indicated that this had all done been on the fly. The soldiers were at least more courteous, and the medical staff seemed to try to help, but the undercurrent of fear was still there.

Our picture ID was pinned to us. I was taken to a tent where others like me and the minotaur were in pain. Most of those I saw were changing mass, like the centaur lying awkwardly on a cot. I was dismayed to see that my feet no longer touched ground when I sat on the cot.

Yeah, I was feeling more than a bit sorry for myself, no matter what I had told Jil. That was until I saw Galidor. I mean, not every Avatar is unique, but the ones Bob did for those of us in for the ‘cast had been tweaked a lot.

He was elfish, of course, tall and slim, dressed like most of us changelings in baggy athletic wear. His clothes suggested that he’d been shorter and broader.

The eye-opener was the two men he was with. Even in the white environmental suits, they looked liked MIBs (Men in Black, Feds). Not only that, but Galidor was wearing a shoulder holster, and had a badge pinned to him.

I mean, with the exception of the elf, these were the stereotypical Feds (Federal Agent) I was looking at and they were looking for someone, me?

Confused, I wondered why a Fed would get into a smegging contest over a disagreement in a game. You would think that the psychology screen would catch immature behavior like that. Unless, it was about something else.

Guiltily, I looked away trying to hide my face. I hadn’t done anything! Well, I did bitch out a federal agent it seems. I didn’t know!

That was when I noticed that I was still aware of the Feds, even though I wasn’t looking at them.

I couldn’t see them, but with a strange certainty, I knew where they were. Concentrating on how I knew this, it seemed to be coming from the top of my head.

Reaching up carefully, I touched a flyaway hair that gave me, I don’t know how to describe it, except as feedback like, maybe?

It was then I knew it wasn’t a hair but an antenna! ‘Ok, so not a bird brain, but a bug-brain. This just gets better and better sister!’

I was waiting for Galidaor to arrest me for some trumped up charge, but to my surprise they quickly backed away, and if not for my new “Bug-Vision” I wouldn’t have known they were there.

Galidor left, but the two MIBs stayed behind, and were definitely keeping on eye on yours truly.

The upside of this, was I got better treatment. I Bug-Visioned one of the MIBs, convincing one of the Doctors to attend me, and it didn’t escape me that I got some privacy as well; if you can call a curtained off section of tent, privacy.

The Doctor had a duct-taped name tag and a makeshift ID kinda like mine. Her name was Doctor Shah, and it was my guess that she was from India or Pakistan from her accent. That threw me for a moment, till I remembered Sri Lanka was off the Indian coast.

Inspecting her badge, I could see it had a UN insignia on it. I breathed a little sigh of relief, because if the UN was on site with medical help, then this was less likely to devolve into a cover-up, involving mass graves.

Some of Sri Lanka’s victims had survived with deformities and a few very fortunate ones with what could only be called superpowers. I’m sure you’ve seen them on the Tonight Show. That guy who can walk up walls, or that old woman with the elephant’s trunk and ears.

My silly inner voice was imagining, “And here she is folks, the amazing Crystal. Let’s have a big hand for her tonight.”

“How are you tonight?”

“Buzz, buzz, buzz.”

“Miss? Sir?” Doctor Shah corrected herself as she brought me out of my day-dream.

“Sorry,” I blushed. “I’m not at my best.”

Getting right to business, she carefully scanned me with a medical diagnostic wand after she input my ID to get my medical files. Modern medicine using the multi-purpose diagnostic wands could perform the equivalent of X-rays, MRI, Sonograms, and blood pressure in the time it used to take them to take your temperature.

Saying that it would take a few minutes for the results, she asked me the usual questions. When did I first observe symptoms? Pain? When did the discomfort turn to pain?

Plainly curious as to why I was getting special treatment, I could tell somehow when her questions tuned from professional to just being curious. Where did I work? Was I still a candidate for transformation?

All I really could add was I did play Dragon’s Gate and was part of the “At Swords Point” web-cast’s cast. I was somehow becoming very like my character’s avatar in appearance, and one of my fears was of personality death because of my shrinking form.

I did mention that my Avatar was a custom one for the ‘cast and I was closely resembling her, not just the standard game sprite.

She did make a note of that, and I guess that satisfied her, thinking that I was some sort of minor celebrity or maybe a clue in the spread of the nano-virus.

I suppose it was more like a virus, than Sri Lanka’s “Devourer” which altered and warped everything from the soil to the top of the trees, and all in between. I remember watching a TV program that stated that much of the bizarre mutational effect from the “Devourer” was due to the tiny machines malfunctioning, and breaking down, because of chaos and entropy effects on a massive scale. I mean, just look how long it takes for a new model car to work out all the bugs and problems on a new game console?

The “Devourer” nano had been an early prototype of nano-tech, but this virus seemed to be much more advanced. No mutations here, except for the deliberate ones that had plundered the MMOG data bases and matched player to avatar. It took what; 48 hours to spread and begin the transformations?

With my own male to female transformation pending, I had read about every advancement I could find. Medical science at the moment can’t duplicate these changes. Appearance maybe, but the Bug-Vision thing, I don’t think so!

I was beginning to suspect that this nano-virus thing was a self replicating nano Artificial Intelligence that was specifically banned by the accords and International Law.

You can build nanites in a restrictive environment, and ship them to the work site in this said environment. Use the nanites, and if they escape, they can’t survive outside their special environment, and self-destruct.

Nano that can reproduce themselves and adapt to changing situations controlled by something that might run amok, NO!

Of course nano developers protested, saying that this limited the usefulness and potential way too much. Fear naturally overcame their objections. All the legislators had to do was point at the once glowing crater that use to be Sri Lanka, and that was that.

Doctor Shah’s eyes turned serious though her protective helmet as my test results came back. First, my bones were being replaced by some sort of hollow carbon-fiber-like material, and the wings I was indeed growing, were also of a similar material.

Second, I was growing female organs including ovaries, and a womb. I had to resist touching myself to find out for myself. Ecstatic, yes, but I was still being forced against my will to be this way.

The antenna had “fronds” somewhat like a moths, that gave me a type of Motion Sense and might even detect other things as well. Okay scary part coming up, yes, my brain was rewiring itself, if for no other reason than because of the antenna. Just exactly what else was happening was anyone’s guess right now.

Now the good news, my shrinking had slowed, and Dr. Shah expected it to stop altogether soon. She based this on the readings from my bone reconstruction. The bad news, was I was going to end up somewhere just over 4 feet tall, and at the current time they didn’t want to risk interfering with the nano-virus because of the radical changes to my bone marrow. Stopping the changes now might be the same as killing me, since it helps produce blood.

I could lie and tell you how I took the news in stride and escaped my watchers and ran off to find the cause of the virus outbreak fought the good fight and won against overwhelming odds.

Nope, I blubbered like baby who has had her lollipop taken away and cried my heart out. It took awhile, but I finally drifted off into a restless sleep exhausted and drained as the nano-virus raped my body.

Sometime later, a volunteer, a Kitsumi, came to see me. She, like the other humanoid changelings, outwardly had what appeared mostly just cosmetic changes. For her it was the Asian eyes, fox ears, and tail. She said, “The suits are awkward for the doc’s to use, so she and other changelings with medical backgrounds are helping in the overworked wards.”

I half-remember asking her, “How bad is it?”

The fox-woman replied, “Well, some where between 10 and 20 thousand people have been quarantined so far, with about third of them with serious problems, like those gaining mass, like the centaurs and minotaurs. Losing mass while painful and alarming, isn’t life threatening for those like the dwarfs, halflings, and fairies.”

There just weren’t enough doctors and equipment to go around. If that wasn’t bad enough, a willing guinea pig had found that we were still contagious in the age old way. A man who had played an elf, had removed his suit and found out the hard way.

I gave a weak smile at that, “They are going to have to set-up roadblocks to keep the wanna-be elf lords out!” My silly inner voice started singing softly, “She’s an elf, I’m an elf, don’t you want to be an elf too?” to the old Dr. Pepper jingle.

I manage to take a few bites while Foxy changed my IV, and she applied some salve to my feverish wing “humps.” At least most of my changes had finished, but for the wings, and soon I went back to sleep.

When I awoke, I was surprised to see my young friend from the bus, Jil. Her mom, Heather, being a nurse, had volunteered the two of them to help. Jil had been keeping an eye on me because of the lack of monitoring equipment which I needed due to my developing wings.

My hunchback was much bigger now, but Jil gave some welcome relief when she applied some more salve to it. She was having problems coming to terms with being a girl and, if she had to help someone, she had asked for it to be me, since I at least, was going though something similar.

Knowing that someone else was in the same situation seemed to calm her. It seemed that Jil had been a Michael, and had found playing a girl avatar erotic. Jil, unlike me, couldn’t use the inductors, because of her age. The parental controls had made her play without them.

She had found it enjoyable watching her Elf warrior maid flounce around in her iron-wood mail bikini. What teenage boy wouldn’t like to have a beautiful elf nymph obey his every command, even if it was only an image?

I really wanted to help Jil, because I knew all too well how it was to be trapped in the wrong skin. Knowing the despair I felt as a girl inside, but caught in my “Greg suit”, I was filled with compassion for Jil.

Even in this age of the miracles of modern medical science, transitioning from one gender to the other isn’t easy. Statistics alone point out that most transgendered people manage to live without transitioning.

Not a high quality of life, however, as the suicide rate and the incidence of serious depression statistics morbidly demonstrate. At least the medical community has finally admitted that it is a problem with a physical cause and not purely psychiatric.

“Jil” I told her softly, “They can do a lot with nanites and surgery if they can’t reverse this somehow. Don’t give in to despair.”

She nodded sadly, “Mom has been telling me the same thing. I know that one of the reasons I’m here with you is everyone is trying to keep me too busy to think too much about IT!” she finished as she awkwardly removed her medical gloves.

“Why don’t you try and play Jiltanith?” I asked her.

Jil looked at me strangely, but I continued, “I don’t mean to go around shooting people with arrows, but you’ve played a girl in Dragon’s Gate and must have done well if you have a set of iron-wood mail.”

Iron-wood mail is magical armour enchanted by elfin wood-singers. They literally sing wood into the form of the rings needed for the mail and add other enchantments that let it exceed the strength of mere steel. In the Dragon’s Gate game, this still living wooden mail allows magical castings while metal armour can’t, as well as its being rare.

She nodded at the compliment, “But, I don’t want to be a girl!”

Touching her hand “Jil I know you don’t, but I can see how unhappy you are. Instead of Michael being treated like Jil, because that’s what everyone else sees, try letting Michael pretend to be Jil while being treated like Jil. Try to find fun or enjoyable things about being Jil,” I suggested to her.

Seeing objections in her eyes, I added, “Don’t ever forget Michael, because that’s who you are. But doing nothing but thinking of how much you miss being him, will drive you crazy!”

She gestured helplessly, “I can’t help it. Everyone treats me so differently now that it’s driving me nuts. It sux!”

I made a decision, “This is a secret, OK? Just between us and you can‘t tell anyone.”

She bit her lip, but said, “Alright.”

“I have a medical condition that made me a boy when I was born, even though inside I was a girl.” Her eyes got large, but I shushed her. “I should’ve been a girl, but no one would listen to me. It took some time, but I found out for myself what was wrong, and was working on saving the money to fix my problem,” I told her.

In disbelief she blurted out, “You wanted to be this way?”

“No, I have no desire to be a fairy! Like you, I just liked playing one in the game. I was a girl all along on the inside, but not on the outside where everyone treated me like a guy because that is all they could see, Jil.”

“Even though I didn’t want to be one, there were certain advantages to being a guy. Being stronger and able to discourage trouble was one plus. Guys can also get away with being slobs sometimes, and no one really thinks it’s a big deal. I tried to enjoy these things kind of like a consolation prize, that I was stuck with, understand Jil?” I asked her.

“So I need to try and think of stuff good about being a girl, even though I want to go back to being a boy?” she asked.

I smiled, “Or in your case, an elf.”

Jil gave me a wan smile, the first I’d seen from her.

“Have you tried to see in the dark yet?” I asked, pointing at her cat-eyes.

“Yeah … it was kinda strange, because everything was in shades of gray, but still clear. I can hear a lot better now, too.” She blushed a little. Looking a little distressed, she continued, “I hate how I’m always blushing or giggling”

Waggling my finger, “No, you won’t have any problems coming up with reasons you don’t like being a girl elf. Remember, think of the good things about this. For instance many of the top swimmers in the world are women, and the holder of the deepest free-dive by anyone is a woman.”

There was a moment of silence as if she was rather unwilling to thinking about it. “Coordination,” she stuttered, “I mean, Jiltanith was a really good archer.”

I had been hoping for more on the female, rather than the Elf side of the tally. At least it was a start. “I bet your sense of balance is better, and that you’re a lot more flexible now. Have you tried “touching” your toes yet?”

Jil shook her head, “I haven’t done anything like that yet. This all just feels so weird.” she said wrapping her arms about herself and I could see the small frown as she “found” her beasts.

“There’s no need to rush anything, but if you want to try now, I can keep watch for you.” I gently prodded. “After all, we’re all dressed for it,” pointing out how about 99% of us changelings were in exercise clothes anyway, because of their one size fits all adjustability.

More than a bit self-conscious, she stretched a little, then slowly reached for the floor of our tent. To her surprise, but not mine, she easily placed both palms flat on the floor. Jil was a teenage elf girl, for smeg’s sake.

She looked up at me, and I gestured her to go on. She bent over double, and then past that, looking at the ceiling from between her legs. Jil blushed again when she saw she was looking at her own “rear,” but was fortunate that being a young elf she didn’t have a lot of “chest” to shift around.

I couldn’t help smiling when she lowered herself into a full split and I saw the amazement on her face, “Wow, I never could do that before.” Then her face fell when she recalled “why” she could do it now.

“Jil, it’s alright to feel bad about all of this. I feel bad too. Whoever, or whatever did this, stole something from everyone. Just don’t give the smegger any satisfaction,” I advised her.

I saw another smile trying to appear as I cursed the SOB who had caused all of this. “It doesn’t mean to give up trying to become who you really are, but rather, working to live with it until you can do something about it, other than drive yourself crazy!”

Pulling herself to her feet with a lithe motion that many a girl gymnast would envy, she nodded her brownish curls, “I think I understand what you’re saying. Sorta like if all you got are lemons kinda of thing.”

Her mom Heather pushed thought the curtain of my little abode right then, asking, “Are you two doing alright?”

I made an exaggerated guilty like look, “who me?” that teased a giggle from both mother and daughter. It was nice to know that all the time I’d spent in front a web-cam hadn’t been wasted, since for the software to work, the facial motions had to be a little over the top.

Heather examined my still growing wings and I winced slightly at her gentle probing. She followed that by checking my height and weight, along with the usual temperature and blood pressure checks.

She had an expectant look and smiled, “Well it won’t be too much longer for your wings to break-out and that should end most of your pain and discomfort. You have also stopped shrinking, Crystal, and your weight looks to have stabilized as well.”

“So I’m not going to become a bug-brain after all, huh? What’s the final verdict on the height?” inclining my head at the measuring tape.

“Fifty and a half inches and twenty-eight pounds,” said Heather levelly.

‘SMEG, I’m a pygmy! At just over four feet tall, and so light that I’ll have to put rocks in my pocket to keep from being blown away in a stiff breeze! I guess I’m going to have to get used to being carded again, since I’ll blend in with the eight year olds.’

‘Well maybe not. Not many eight year olds have wings, which I guess is kinda of a good thing. I mean, at least many of the other changelings and I still look human, more or less.’

‘The Dragons, thank smeg Azi isn’t here, minotaurs, centaurs, mer-folk, and others were going to have a tough time. Prejudice is something I don’t think we will ever get rid of and I doubt that unless a miracle happens, we’re going to be struck this way. Cosmetic surgery will help some but what can you do for a mer-folk that has a dolphin’s flukes?’

With that in mind, “Heather, it’s really not as bad as what happening to the others is it?”

She shook her head sadly, “Every time they‘ve tried to stop the transformation, the victim always dies. We lost a teenager who was transforming into a half-giant. We just couldn’t get enough nutrients into her to keep pace with the changes. It just used her up.”

“What made me so mad, was one of those damn bureaucrats actually asked why we were trying to keep IT alive!” Heather venomously spat with her prominent ears twitching.

I held her hand, “So, it’s starting already?”

Heather gestured angrily yes, “At least one of the UN doctors tore into him because of it!“

Hearing the frustration and anger, I tried to change the subject, “You know that there’s some sort of intelligence behind this. Otherwise, I should have ended up that bird-brain I was worried about.”

“I wonder why my change was so measured, when some others are not. Why would my virus act more intelligently than someone else’s,” I mused.

Heather looked thoughtful, but shrugged her shoulders when my eye caught on Jil who had been watching me because of the lack of enough of the proper equipment.

Thinking about some of the testing we did at the warehouse before the equipment was shipped out, I asked, “Do the medical wands produce any sort of electro-magnetic field Heather?”

She shook her head, “No more than any electronic device. Besides, everyone got scanned when admitted, but not everyone is having problems.”

Struggling to complete my half conceived thought, “No, but if I remember correctly, they can interfere with some sorts of communications. If this virus is in communication with each of its “colonies” in each of us, it would be designed more to blend into the background for stealth than for power-output. That being said, the EM might keep a colony isolated from the rest of the network and therefore, “dumber.””

Heather gave me a considering look, “Are you sure you were just a warehouse worker?”

I gave her a smile, “Sister, working in a warehouse was what I did, not who I am. In the game with millions of players, my avatar is one of the top spies in play. If I do say so myself, I am one sneaky bitch!”

“The odds are someone already thought of this, but because of some smegging foul-up, or smegging National Security reason the doctors haven’t been told,” I told Heather.

“Well, I’ll pass it on, just in case.” she said and left. A short time later a UN doctor and a “suit” came in to ask me some questions after chasing Jil away for a while.

I don’t know what they were fishing for, but it was just short of an interrogation. They asked about what I had suggested to Heather, and I told them I was an avid Sci-fi reader.

I read the fantasy stuff, too, but it was the “hard stuff” that I really enjoyed, fiction written by real scientists like Doc Taylor, and others about theories and issues that had been discovered during the last fifty years.

Because of that, I had as good a layman’s understanding of various disciplines as any graduate with a general education, and better than most, despite the high school graduate level education on my resume.

They asked about a couple of companies, and I told them that some I had heard of, and others my company did business with sometimes. The two of them didn’t seem satisfied with my answers, but I honestly didn’t know anything more.

The “suit” took me off guard when he asked about some projects named Hecatocheires and Briareus. I told him that Hecati-something wasn’t familiar, but Briareus was from Greek myth, I thought.

He then changed tactics and wanted to know about the “Sword Point” web-cast and the situation with Galidor. I told him what had happened, but didn’t add that I had seen Galidor earlier with the MIBs.

He pointedly asked what I did in response and I told him that Galidor had either hacked my PC or the Dragon’s Gate server to get my ID. Paranoid about that, I had upgraded my firewall.

If that wasn’t enough, he grilled me about the other players, as well, but I told him that Azi was the only one I knew well since we had played as partners so long. With that he pressed me about ever meeting Azi in the flesh, but I told him we hadn’t. We had talked a lot on chat, but that was it.

Not content with that, he wanted to know if we sent files to each other, and I told him yes, we did, but it was usually game related. More confused than ever over what they were looking for, I kept to the truth, despite my little devil voice telling me to have a little fun with them. Somehow, I didn’t think they would enjoy the humor!

Finally, they let Jil back in and she applied some more of that salve to my feverishly hot developing wings. “What was all that about?” she asked.

I could see my young friend was concerned about me and it was a new feeling. Because of how badly my family had taken my news, I had stayed away from others because of fear of not being accepted because of my differences. An on-line relationship in a game is not a substitute for a smile and hug!

“Jil I don’t know. I think it may be just plain bureaucratic paranoia. If you’re not panicking like they are, it must be your fault, I guess,” I told her.

Heather took that moment to walk in and I could tell she was a little worried too. I made a gesture of “about so high and so wide” and held up two fingers while pointing at my eyes.

Being quick on the uptake, Heather nodded. Not wanting anything smelly landing on my new friends, I whispered to her, “Heather, if you don’t want Jil here, I understand. I don’t know why everyone is so interested in me, but I don’t want you two hurt.”

Shaking her head, she whispered back, “Here, she is at least with a friend, and that is better than back with the others. If anything goes wrong, it’s better she’s here where your watchers will be protection, as well as being annoying”

Looking at Jil, Heather said, “OK, young lady, let me see your hand.”

Jil curiously held out her hand and then jerked it back when she saw the box in her mother’s grip. “Mom! NO! Those are for little kids,” she objected loudly.

Thankful for the distraction while the salve did its cooling work, I was lying on my side because of the “hunch back” and my tender breasts. I raised a questioning eyebrow.

Jil spoke up before her mom could, “It’s a little kid’s ID tracer.”

Heather showed me the handheld unit, and not being a parent, I’d never seen one in person before. Using an invisible ink, it printed out a simple circuit of a homing beacon right on the skin, or on to a band-aid like pad.

There were services that monitored the beacon 24/7 or if using the pad, it would activate if removed. That little box had reduced the number of missing kids, but as they got older it was hard to get them to wear it, like was in Jil’s case.

“One of the army nurses got fed up with trying to keep track of all the kids. It was becoming a problem, because mom and dad didn’t look like mom and dad anymore. In an effort to keep families from getting separated she got someone to raid a store for a load of the trackers.” Heather said, while trying to coax Jil closer.

Jil having none of it, refused, “Mom!”

“I know you’re not a child anymore, but a teenager, and yes, I do trust you. But you’re not a boy anymore, and now that you’re a girl, you have a whole new set rules that apply to you and you haven’t had the chance to learn them yet.” Heather reasoned with Jil.

“Please, just for a few days until things settle down?” she asked her daughter.

Seeing a chance to help, “Hey, Heather, I’m new at this girl stuff too. Do you have an extra?”

She smiled at me, “Seriously?”

“Yeah, then Jil and I could be kinda like sisters? Deal?” I asked her.

Reluctantly Jil agreed, “Deal, but only the pads!”

Heather printed out the band-aid like pads and once we got them stuck on to the back of our hands, they were smeg hard to see. The salve was really starting to work now and as it eased the discomfort enough, I drifted off to sleep.

I awoke in the night, when with a sudden sharp ripping pain, my wings emerged. There was a doctor, and I think Heather and Jil were there, too, but the blessed cooling relief of having the pain end was such that I was only half-aware.

I think someone ran a med wand over me and did an examination, but sleep was already claiming me.

‘What’s up with me and screaming?’ My eyes popped up and my new wings “flittered” knocking over a cup on a nearby table. Hey those are gunshots! Jil had her hands over her sensitive ears and was shaking like a scared kitten.

I wasn’t much better, because my Bug-Vision made everything seem as if the whole room was moving due to the concussive sound waves. Dazed, I pulled myself to Jil’s side to huddle together.

Although my hearing was improved too, it was the motion-detection from the Bug-vision that made each shot a blast of thunder that shook the world! We flinched as every crack of thunder brought it closer and closer until with a deafening rip of canvas the storm was upon us.

Huge black claws sliced though the top of our tent with ease. Through the tear I could see lines of fire arching towards us as a machine gun fired tracers into the figure towering above us.

Jil screamed, and together, both of us drove for the floor as our trusty cot was vivisected as the claws reached for us! Serpent-like, the clawed appendage struck and caught me in the pinch between the huge serrated knives. My silly inner voice overcame my panic when it proclaimed “Toe-Jammed”! Jill tried to come to my rescue by grabbing my hand and pulling me free.

Her effort was for naught, as a sword like claw brushed her aside. The breath was robbed from me as my kidnapper gave a tremendous leap and we were flying! Below me was a scene from some bad action movie with fires burning and flashes of gunfire. The difference was, they were shooting at me!

A body numbing blow slammed into my back and at last, confusion left me, along with consciousness.

With a jolt I opened my eyes all too aware of my throbbing back. I was lying on a wooden picnic table. Looking around me I saw it was still dark, but my Bug-Vision let me see as if it was brightly lit. I was outside of an RV, and my rumbling tummy made me aware of how hungry I was. A roar of wind made me forget all else but the large dark shape that my mind refused at first to identify, a dragon.

Its large dark wings cracked like sails finding the wind, as they furled themselves as it landed. One thing about Bug-Vision, is that there isn’t any color, but I knew that it had to be black.

The dragon reared its sedan sized head and looked me and my heart nearly skipped a beat. Hardly daring a breath, a single word escaped my lips, “Azi.”

A headlight sized eye winked, and the Dragon nestled on all fours. From its seemingly seamless back, a tall slim man detached himself and slid down the tail. Up to then the dragon had acted intelligently, but with that, it was more like an animal. The man grasped the dragon by its snout and led it to a grassy area where impossibly, it began to graze like a horse.

In a stage of shock I watched as the man came to me. He reminded me of the character of the prince from “The Prince of Persia, The Two Thrones.” In denial, I knew he must be my friend.

“Crystal, lets go inside. I’m sure you must have many questions,” the giant said to me. I still hadn’t even begun to become accustomed to being one the “little” people. I barely came to his sternum! The whole world was huge, and I was looking levelly at the door knob, for smeg’s sake!

The entire thing had a surrealistic edge to it, because of everything from my wings, to how huge the world was now. He went to a fridge and pulled out a mug that he put into a microwave.

Not knowing how or what to say, I stayed quiet as I took in my surroundings. Like with the Prince of Persia character, the RV was furnished in a rather over done Asian style. Noticeable was the state of the art computer equipment, which even included a tabletop holographic set.

Pulling myself up onto a chair, I was aware of my bruised back, craning around I tried to see how bad it was, but my smegging wings were in the way. It felt like if I had gotten punched in the back.

Azi bringing the mug to me, smiled, “Yes you are very difficult to harm now, my beautiful one. You were struck by one of the infidel’s bullets, but it struck your wing which is composed of a diamond-like nano-weave.”

Taking the mug with both hands from tall and dark, I wasn’t sure what it was. Oatmeal maybe, but it had been spiced heavily with honey, and normally I wouldn’t touch this dentist and dietitian’s nightmare, but I found myself eating it with abandon.

Looking up, Azi was amused by my lack of table manners, “Your metabolism has changed, and you’re going to need to eat more energy concentrated food, as well as eating more often.”

Tying to keep from licking the bottom of my mug, other unsettling changes made themselves known. My tongue was long enough to actually reach the bottom. It was a rude reminder of just how much I had been altered.

“Long have I patiently waited till the day when we finally could be together. Now the great plan is underway, and the Great Satan shall sow what it has reaped,” crowed tall and dark.

My silly inner voice was lamenting that my dear friend Azi was nuttier than a Mr. Good Bar! Painfully aware of how unable I was at this moment to defend myself, “Please tell me, Azi, that you didn’t have anything to do with causing all this nano-virus thing,” I pleaded with him.

“Have anything to do with it my dear love? I have worked for years to make it so,” he boasted.

I felt my spirits sink, for my at arm’s reach friendship with him, had been one of the cornerstones of my lonely life. Now the masks were gone, I didn’t like what I found at all. Even less, his terms of “endearment” seemed to mean he saw our relationship as a lot more than just an on-line friendship.

Like out of a cheesy movie he monologued, “For five years I have labored on their Project Hecatoncheires in violation of the Sri Lanka Accords. By their research in nano-technology distributed artificial intelligence, they have flouted International Law and broken agreements they signed. Supposedly for defensive purposes, but obviously in a pursuit for power at the expense of international consensus”

“I have broken their Briareus, the bodyguard for the pagan God Zeus, for I have released the Seals of Solomon. The Afrit is loose and he answers my will! Now everyone will know of the Great Satan’s great plot against all mankind.”

“The blundering infidels never did discover me, but instead found out though the carelessness of my brothers in faith. Even knowing that a true believer stood in their midst, they never suspected me. It wasn’t until they traced the data to you, Crystal, that wisdom began to dawn on them.” Azi’s dark face beamed.

“ME?” I squeaked!

“Yes,” beloved, “I sent the data in a virus to you, coded in our chats, and during play, the virus would send the data to my brothers.”

A part of me truly grieved for the person I had long believed to be my best friend, because he could keep a team of “shrinks” busy for years, but involving ME in this treason? “Azi are you out of your ever-loving mind? You have just committed an Act of War against the United States, or at the very least, an act of terrorism. What are you going to do, flap your way to Persia?” I shouted at him while waving at the décor.

He stood there seemingly impassive, but that didn’t slow me! “No one’s going to forget anyone at all connected with this, EVER! Thousands of people have had their lives disrupted, if not changed forever, because of this! Some have been changed in some smegging horrible ways! Smeg knows how many have died so far!”

Azi’s ears were deaf to me. He was acting very odd, but what about all of this, wasn’t bizarre.

“I am Bahadur Azi Dahaka dragon warrior of the Mountains of the Summer Snows. Dakon is the body, but I am the mind. With my interface jacks, courtesy of the infidels together we ARE the dragon. Yes, we WILL fly to Persia, and the might of the infidels shall be as dust upon the wind against a warrior of the true faith! Once in the arms of my brothers, I shall have praises raised to my name, and you shall be my wife!

Leaving me with my mouth gaping wide, he turned away, “I shall now go and prepare for our epic journey.”

I sat there as he exited the RV, wondering how in the smeg I had gotten into this mess. Visions of Air Force F-22C Super-Raptor fighters turning both of us into hamburger was running though my head, dragon- 0, air force- 2, final score folks!

Looking for a way out of this, I searched the RV for some kind of radio or telephone. There was plenty of equipment, but nothing I could call out on. Then, I remembered Heather’s kid tracker. Searching my hand, I found nothing, but then recalled Jil. I thought she was trying to pull me free, but gently rubbing where the patch had been, I think she was really activating the beacon! Smart kid!

At least I knew why the feds were so interested in me now and why Galidor had been on my case. They must’ve been trying to force “us” to do something, if “our” link to his brothers were in danger of being cut, thinking I was a part of this insanity!

Trying to make my poor overloaded brain work, I knew that the marines would be dropping on us smegging soon. They would be out for blood, and even if we got airborne, I could see no way to survive between the ‘rock’ of the marines and the ‘falling anvils’ of the air force.

On the other hand, the secret to reversing this smegging thing might be either in the RV or in Azi’s head. The marines might be able to take him alive, but the air force would chew us into dragon and fairy sushi! ‘OK, I’ve got to keep us on the ground for as long as I can.’

While looking for some way to warn everyone, I had found some clothes that evidently Azi had provided for me. They were a little childish, but at least they fit. From somewhere he had found a serape like cape for me since jackets won't fit me now with the wings. Did it have to have to be pink with a fur collar, oh please!

Peering out of the RV curtains I could see Azi fussing with the dragon. Carefully I opened the door a little, dismayed at the effort. It wasn’t that I was a lot weaker now, but more because of the lack of leverage from lost height, or so I told myself.

Trying to be quiet I edged myself out and sneaked around the corner of the RV. I could see from the lightening sky it would be dawn soon, but I didn’t see any place to run to. Thinking we were maybe in a park or campground, I made for what I thought was the west from the rising sun.

I wasn’t making good time, but at least I was putting some distance between us. My change of height and mass made me very awkward. I was having to re-learn how to walk all over again, and the wings kept “springing” out whenever I started to fall.

I’m telling you, sister, that it took some getting used to! My silly inner voice was urging me to see if I could fly, but I knew that I just didn’t have time to waste. Better the sure thing than trying to play Tinkerbell.

That was until Azi appeared in front of me! I turned to run, but barely made a half dozen steps before he caught me. My smegging legs were just too smegging short!

“Crystal you should have realized that with the Afrit under my command I can find you no matter where you are. I should have remembered how spirited you are my beloved!” Azi said while grasping my shoulder.

“If you are awaiting the arrival of the cavalry you will be disappointed for my Afrit found all of the tracers that they planted on you and devoured them. Come my love, is a fate as my wife such a horror?” he asked.

I shouted at him, “I’ll settle for the marines!” Eerily on cue, Azi flew backwards with a spray of blood as part of his head exploded! Expecting to die as well, I ran to Azi because no matter how crazy he had become he had once been my friend.

Like a bad Quentin Tarantino film as I watched the crown of his bloody head try and “knit” itself back together, but the wound and blood loss were winning. Trying not to choke on my own gorge I could “see” into his brains and could make out the shattered remains of his interface socket.

Somehow, he was still alive. Like he had said, the Afrit had made us hard to kill. My inner voice added, “And prolong the agony too.”

With my Bug-Vision I was aware of men in camouflage running towards us with weapons, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from my broken friend.

Impossibly, Azi looked at me as if seeing me for the first time!

“Crystal?” he softly questioned.

“I’m here Azi,” fighting the tears and my conflicted feelings.

“I’m free now. It’s gone now Crystal, I’m free,” as his eyes lost focus, but somehow found mine again.

The struggle of the nanites to repair that terrible wound was now clearly lost as “knitting” slowed and began to stop.

“Is it really you my friend?” he asked and I nodded my head as the storm of armed men stopped and circled us.

“Don’t trust him Crystal, don’t…” was the last words of Bahadur Azi Dahaka, dragon warrior of the Mountains of the Summer Snows.

Looking up, I found the face of Galidor looking down at me and finally I failed to hold my tears inside as they flowed from me to mix with the blood of my friend.

The next few hours were a blur. Soldiers and MIBs asked me question after question, but I had few answers. I was aware that Galidor of all people seemed to screen me from the worse abuses, but it was hard for me to care because I was full of tears.

The hours turned into days and somewhere along the way my interrogators got the idea that I didn’t know any more than what I had already told them. They were clearly looking for a scapegoat, but again it was Galidor who pointed out they had found a confession from Rebecca that clearly pointed out that I had been just a cats-paw in all of this.

“Rebecca,” my fuzzed brain asked, “Who is she?”

“Rebecca Saks was Azi’s real name, Crystal” replied Galidor

I think my confusion convinced them more than anything else, “Azi was a SHE?”

“She was a researcher for the Briareus Project,” Galidor told me, “She got past all the security checks, but two years ago we found someone had been leaking secrets. We followed the traces back to you, but never could prove Rebecca was passing them to you.”

“I was added to your group to try and find how it was done. I’m sorry about our little quarrel, but my bosses thought if we threatened to reveal you it would make you react to protect the link,” Galidor informed me.

Numbly, “He, I mean she, said that it was sent in a virus during our pre-game chats and then during play it would transmit out over my bandwidth.”

Strangely comforting, Galidor softly said, “I know. We found the confession, but there are many things that just don’t add up here. Anything you can tell us to clear this up would help, but I’m going to see about having you released.”

The other two in the room clearly didn’t like that, but it seemed he had some official pull, because the next day they let me go. I didn’t know where they were taking me, but once I saw Heather I couldn’t help myself but to throw myself into her arms and my endless tears flowed again.

***

While I’d been interrogated by the FBI, Heather told me that they had found a way of lobotomizing the nano-colonies in all the afflicted by keeping them communicating with each other. No way had been found of reversing the effects and the changes go all the way to the DNA level.

It seemed that the computing power of some sixty thousand nano-colonies plus the computing power of their hosts that they had borrowed could come up with some astonishing results.

It also was found that the nano-colonies, while not joined together as a MEGA-computer, was still smart enough to set it up so if the “colony” was destroyed the host would soon follow. The good news was since severed from the “net-work” the nanos weren’t infecting anyone else.

Faced with executing some sixty thousand citizens, the science geeks came up with a simple detector that we would wear that would alert everyone, if the nanties went active again. The bad news was that it looked just like those “house” arrest bracelets that the parolees wear. Well, it wasn’t house arrest, but we had to notify our ‘caseworker’ if we traveled past a certain distant. At any rate it was better than imprisoned or dead.

They then let us go home. I didn’t have to worry about my stuff disappearing from my trailer because almost as soon as I left, Galidor and friends had searched it. Miracle of miracles, they had even locked the door behind themselves.

Heather’s husband Terry was back and I could see he wasn’t sure about his houseful of elves now. She wanted me to stay with them for a few days, but I begged off, assuring her I would be fine.

I had a small bag of clothing that mostly fit me and that was it. When I walked in the door, I was glad that I was a neat housekeeper for the most part. The only real clutter I had was at my computer desk.

I was intent on checking my backlog of emails, when the screen saver I downloaded, in what seemed like another lifetime ago, came to life. As I watched Azi and myself flying though the clouds, I sat down on my sofa crying for the fantasy that had been my friend.

Rebecca was having a closed casket funeral, but in truth the government had incinerated her remains. I wanted to attend and Heather helped me find an outfit that worked fairly well. When we arrived, I was aware of the protesters and cops outside, but it was the eyes inside that seemed to bore into me.

From the hostility I felt, I got the impression that Rebecca’s friends and family somehow blamed me for the tragedy. At least I wasn’t alone, since Galidor and the other players had shown as well.

For the first time I met Darius, Rain and Balathzar in the real world instead of in a game. Darius was a slim, polished older guy who was a lawyer, and Rain was a rather dumpy accounting major in her senior year. Balathzar was a slender boy from France and a student studying mathematics.

Throughout the funeral, I saw that one of Rebecca’s friends in particular was giving me a serious evil eye. Finally I asked, “Galidor, who is she?” since he seemed to know everyone here, I guess as part of the case.

What I found bothered me, bothered me a lot, because he said, “She’s Helen Parton, Rebecca’s dominant former lover.”

“Rebecca was a lesbian? I asked surprised. I mean often times transgenders will be attracted to the same gender like a homosexual, but sometimes to the opposite gender as well. That was part of the confusion about it all. If I’m really a girl inside, shouldn’t I be attracted to guys?

“What was with the dominant part?” I wanted to know from him.

“It’s what Helen and the rest of her friends told us,” Galidor said. “She and Helen had been together until about two years ago.”

Oh great, I was the other woman. I got a few more evil looks when I laid a Dragon origami I’d made from plans I got from the web on her casket. Smeg it, Rebecca or Azi it didn’t matter! ‘Good bye my friend, may you find peace at your journey’s end, I wished with all my heart.’

Despite my best effort, I did mope about after the funeral and to my surprise I still had a job. Some of my co-workers had bullied the office staff into providing a newer lighter handheld computer that was better suited to my smaller stature.

Heather and Jil became regular visitors to my humble trailer and I owe them a lot for helping me learn how to FLY! We laid out some mats and Jil tethered me like an oversized June bug.

I had been a little concerned about being able to reach things, but found it really wasn’t a problem. It was a little difficult at first because some of the engineers were more than a little fascinated by the design that let me fly, but I got them to build a few little aids for me to let me reach everything and repaid them with air shows during lunch after I learned how to fly.

It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I couldn’t stay airborne for more than a few minutes, but what a wild time it was! The other part was it seemed I was always eating, and Heather gave me a few envious looks at the sweets I went through without gaining an ounce.

***

Bob began talking about restarting the ’cast with a storyline that let Azi’s character retire in glory, and I supported that. The News had all painted Rebecca as a crazed terrorist who couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. I wanted a better legacy for my friend.

That was got me to thinking about her last words, “Don’t trust him, I’m free.” Don’t trust who, free from what? It was just one more questions for which I didn’t have an answer.

I keep telling people that what I do for work is not who I am. Of course, I like to think of myself more of the ‘fairy mistress of spies’. This mess just had too many questions for me to let go.

It didn’t help that while working on the storyline for Bob, I couldn’t get the real story out of my mind, and frankly, none of it made any sense. Why release the nanites at all? Why use a MMORPG as some sort of template for the transformations? What was the deal with the dragon thing, besides it just looking cool?

Part of it I got. Uncle Sam had been breaking agreements to develop self-replicating nano-intelligences. The goal was to expose the truth, and maybe make some money on the side, from those unfriendly to the said Uncle.

Hecatoncheires in Greek myth my research revealed were three huge giants with fifty heads and a hundred arms who was immensely strong. Not a bad code name for a Nano-tech project and one of them Briareus was Zeus's (king of the Greek Gods) bodyguard.

Azi’s behavior still seemed insane, but if you used the money angle as a motivation, it made a good demonstration of the nano being able to attack and transform very specific targets in extremely specific ways. In this case, just gamers in a single data base had been transformed into a variety of human and non-human forms.

The thing was nanties didn't attack like guided missiles or something. Nano-tech is more viral-like in its growth. Like a virus, once you had it, you would contaminate every thing you touched and even anyone breathing near you would catch it too.

The major difference was the smegging things could move under their own power toward a new victim. Viruses didn't move on the door knob to get you. Alright, so, more like a parasite looking for a host.

Okay, in all likelihood what it did was infect everyone and then Mr. Mega-computer determined which colony was in whom, and gave instructions to begin the changes or go inactive. Smeg, that could mean everyone that believed they had gotten away unaffected had a smegging time-bomb waiting inside themselves!

Ok, the dragon thing seems like plain old megalomania, despite how I love to fly and think as fantasy creatures, they are cool. Except in Azi’s case where it was a direct link back to the Middle East where many of those not so friendly to our uncle reside, because Bahadur Azi Dahaka actually means something like dragon first class in Farsi, or so I’m told.

It took me several days, but there were some things that I had to know. I called Helen Parton, Rebecca’s ex-lover. Tracking her down and getting her to talk to me were difficult, but when I pleaded I was trying to understand what had happened, and how it didn’t make any sense, she did grudgingly agree to meet with me.

Our meeting left me really confused! It seemed Rebecca hadn’t had any transgender tendencies, according to Helen. Even more so, when she confirmed that Rebecca tended to be submissive in their relationship. Helen was just as hurt and upset as I was. She told me how two years ago for no reason she could find, Rebecca kicked her out of their small ranch.

That I picked up on! “You’re saying she started acting out of character two years ago?”

After thinking about it Helen said, “Yes, it was definitely out of character.”

That jibes with the time the FBI first became aware of the security beach, but not when the breach first occurred. Whoa!

Helen and I didn’t become friends, but at least I think she stopped burning effigies of me. I promised if I came up with anything that I would let her know.

I was still wrestling with what I knew so far. We have information and designs being sent out over the web, but no actual hardware changing hands. The FBI had to be looking into a money trail, so where did that leave me?

***

Jil and I were out doing a little archery using a makeshift range we had set up behind our trailers. I would practice flying by retrieving her spent arrows. Sometimes, some of her friends would join her, but mostly it was just us.

She and Heather had become almost like family to me and when Jil and my relationship began changing, I was concerned that she had a “crush” on me!

Talking with Heather about it, she laughed and said, “I don’t think so.”

A little hurt at being laughed at, “What’s so funny about it?” I asked her.

Heather gestured me to come with her and she lead me upstairs to her bedroom with its full length mirror. “Strip” she said.

With my hurt turning to embarrassment, I still felt shy about the nudity thing, but I trusted Heather, so I did so.

She made a point of not staring, but pointed to the mirror, “What do you see?”

Looking into the mirror I saw how short I was next to Heather and of course my wings which were nearly as long as I was tall. They were kinda like a dragonfly’s, but with some of the characteristics of damselflies. The only reason I could walk without tripping on them was because at rest they were “over-swept”, crossing over each other.

I shared very similar general features with Heather, elfish, but I also had the tallish fronds of my antenna. Chilled, I crossed my arms over my breasts, “So?”

She giggled, “You are so much like a girl that I forget sometimes that you ever were a guy! I should’ve done this some time ago, but you kept fooling me. Crystal, I mean really look, how old do you look?”

Biting back a retort, I did as she asked. I see myself as an adult, short, but an adult although there had been a few problems here and there. I mostly took them as the prejudice that all of us changelings were starting to dealing with. It was worse than years back with the AIDS thing, when everyone was concerned about being infected.

I really didn’t want to do this, but standing there with nothing to hide behind, left me little choice. What I saw was a rather cute girl who could pass for between eight and ten years old with rather prominent breasts. They weren’t that big, but as small as I was they looked huge. Not a miniature adult, but a child with breasts and wings! No way could I pass for an adult!

Heather softly pointed out, “Crystal, you are a dear, but you just don’t look at all like the pictures Jil has hidden under her bed. Both of you are exploring something new to you and it’s my guess she sees you more as a little sister and friend, not a romantic interest.”

I was back into a funk as I got dressed, but I gave Heather a warm hug and went home to think. It kept me up that night and the next day. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I called Helen back and although she was still cool towards me, I think she accepted that I had loved Rebecca as a friend.

“Please don’t be offended, but I thought of something that may help clear Rebecca‘s name,” I told Helen.

“Ok, if it’s going to bring out the truth.”.

Taking a deep breath I asked, “What kind of women was Rebecca attracted to?”

Taken aback, Helen said, “Well, she seemed to like athletic women who could share her hobbies of horseback riding and hiking. I told you about the submissive thing last time, but that was for intimate occasions, other than that just a companion to partner with. What’s with all this?”

“Well, Helen,” I said, “Part of the government’s case is in her confession she gave while talking to me in her RV. She told me I was to be a wife. Why do I look like an overdeveloped ten year old, if I was to be a wife? I don’t even look very much like my Crystal avatar, if you don’t count my face and wings. More to the point, Rebecca wasn’t into child porn, nor was she transgendered. This is almost like some bigot’s pre-conceived notions of what a lesbian is like.” I told her.

“Helen, I don’t have all the pieces yet, but I think it is time to shift our focus from how could Rebecca have done this, to who else could have. The problem is, we still don’t have any concrete proof. It’s all circumstantial.”

“It’s a start,” she told me, and the strength of her voice let me know that I had an ally.

We promised to keep in touch if any one of us thought of something else. That evening I had a nightmare. Unable to go back to sleep, I worked on The Dragon’s Gate story for Azi. I sent off what I had in an email to Bob, who was also still up.

He wanted me to stop by to see some animation that he had been working on for the ’cast. After realizing just how much like a child I looked now, I really didn’t want to go out much, but I felt I owed it to my friend. I wrote back, “I’ll try and make it over this week.”

Bob wrote back, “Looking forward to it, beautiful.”

I’m not sure how long I just sat there looking at that message.

A little hesitant at first, but growing in determination, I typed in my data query. I still had Bob’s privacy waiver from when he’d first applied for our ’cast producer position and I used it to aid my search.

I knew he had attended MIT, so I started there, looking for what he had majored in as well as what his thesis had been about. The problem was, once I found it, I had to do additional searches to try and understand the significance of what I had just read.

Bob’s thesis was on using the human brain as a model for AI programs, and there was nothing new about that. What was of note, was that he had been working on not just improving computer based intelligences, but on replicating specific human personalities in a digital environment.

It didn’t take long for a sci-fi fan like me to catch onto that he had been working on a combination of uploading a persona into a program, and the old idea of recording a personality for later use. Paranoia reminded me that Rebecca had had a neural interface jack and her saying that she was free after it had been destroyed.

His thesis had never never been completed, because he got arrested. Strangely, not only was there no record of what he had been charged with, they had been dismissed when he had dropped out of MIT. That just reeked of some sort of deal being cut.

He then started working for a little known medical research center where he stayed for ten years, but left after the company unexpectedly closed. That’s when he’d showed up in Silicon Valley just in time to take our position as producer.

I didn’t get much sleep that night either, but eventually I made a decision. Printing out my suspicions, I gathered everything I had into a package. One last bit of research and I called into work to ask for some time off. Things were still getting back to normal, but business was slow, even though to our customers’ confidence was slowly returning.

Then, it was a call to Heather to ask for a ride downtown to the Federal building. I could hear the question in her voice, but I didn’t dare say anything over the phone.

The valley had been having an usually wet year so far, so our ride was accompanied by the thumbing of her car wipers as I told her that Galidor had told me if I thought of anything, to contact him. She knew me well enough to know that there was a lot I wasn’t saying, but she didn’t press me on it. As I got out, I asked, “Would you mail this package for me while you’re waiting? I shouldn’t be long.

Heather gave her assent, so into the lion’s mouth I ventured, with my trusty umbrella as my only weapon. My heels clicked on the polished floor. I had taken to wearing them to make up some of my lost height and dressing as maturely as I could to help fight the “child” look I had now.

I got to the information desk and pulled out the card Galidor had given me. It didn’t take him long to show up. His curiosity was plain on his face as I told him, “I’ve thought of a few things. Can I talk to you for a few moments? I can’t stay long, because I have someone waiting for me.”

“Sure, right this way.” He led me inside to an office. “Do you mind if I ask another agent to listen in?” Galidor asked.

Thinking about it I replied, “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

He called in a female agent who identified herself as agent Goodsby. “Are you still going by Crystal?” Galidor asked me.

“Yes I am for now. Do you mind if I call you Frank?” I smiled.

He looked surprised, “You figured that out? I apologize about that. We did believe you were actively involved somehow.”

Agent Goodsby snorted, seeming to imply that she wasn’t sure I still wasn’t somehow.

“Before we get started, do you mind if I asked why you deliberately missed killing the baron’s captain of guards? If you had wanted to simply stop the treaty, shooting anyone would have worked, but you with that smegging bow of death, shot to wound, why?” I asked.

Agent Goodsby rolled her eyes in the age old manner of someone who just didn’t get the attraction of gaming, but Galidor chuckled.

“I was wondering if that had gotten by you, Crystal. Captain Hardin is an old friend of mine and we were working together to get him out of the baron’s service, but also to give him an alibi and reason to get closer to the duke” the incongruously suit-dressed elf said.

“So placing an assassin close to the Duke was more important than the alliance with the prince and barons?” I questioned.

“No matter how many of the nobles you allied with, he wouldn’t back down. It would have led to a huge war and terrible battles. We decided to try and sidestep that.” Frank told me.

“Well that answers that question, but I have another for you. What do you want from all of this, Frank?” I asked

“I want to catch whoever is responsible for this and see them pay for it.”

Looking disgusted, I made a rude buzzer noise, “You want to catch the bad guys and win one for truth, justice, mom and apple pie. Wrong answer Frank! What you want is the activation codes for the millions of inactive nano colonies that didn’t go active when ours did. I’ll bet that everyone that was evacuated was subjected to an electro-magnetic field to try and disable them, but I’ll also wager that the project designed them to be difficult to find and deactivate when inactive.” I couldn’t help enjoying myself now that I had their attention.”

***

“Let GO of me you SMEGHEADS!” I cursed the uniformed security guards who were carrying me out of the Federal building by the arms.

As they turned away, I made a rude gesture at their backs. Looking around I saw Heather hurrying over to me looking worried.

“Crystal! What in the world is going on?” she asked.

With a nasty look at the building, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

It was a tense ride back home, but I offered to take her to lunch while Jil was still in classes, and that eased the tension somewhat. Afterward, we did a little shopping and I managed to ease more of Heather's discomfort about the morning’s events.

Sometimes, I think the worse part of my being a changeling is that now I’m female I still can’t wear the beautiful clothes I desire, but must shop in the kid’s department. I did feel a little guilty at dipping into my “special” savings, but since I was stuck this way, I might as well make the best of it. It also gave me the opportunity to make some purchases at Radio Shack.

When Heather invited me over for supper that night, I accepted. I enjoyed my time with her family, even if her husband Terry was still in a mild state of shock at the changes in his little kingdom, with the females suddenly outnumbering the males.

That night I had a hard falling asleep, but eventually I reached a kind of peace that let me relax. Not wanting Heather anywhere near where I needed to go this morning, if my suspicions were correct, I decided to brave the public transportation system.

Wearing one of my serapes, and carrying my umbrella, I dressed for comfort more than for appearance. My sneakers were ones I both hated and liked at the same time. They fit and were comfortable, but I really did hate the Barbie motif!

The ride was an uncomfortable one with all the side glances and the way people shied away from me after they realized that I wasn’t a child, but a changeling. Feeling like a leper, I was relieved when my stop came up.

Bob worked out of his house and had turned a two car garage into a computer studio. A sign outside on his lawn advertised his consulting firm.

I planted my umbrella outside and knocked on the studio door. If I had played my cards right Bob would have just gotten to sleep three or four hours ago and that should give me an advantage, I hoped!

When he opened the door, I could see by his disheveled hair that my guess was correct. Bob was a changeling as well, but instead of being transformed into a creature, he had become an avatar that showed up as a non-playing character, a mage and seer, on several of our quests.

Once you knew where to look, the evidence only confirmed my theory. He had lost his balding overweight body and now had one that was slim and athletic as well as ten years younger. I suppose he thought no one would pay any attention to him because he wasn’t a player and shouldn’t have changed at all.

“Hello Bob? I’m not too early am I? I know I should have called first, but I was in the area and wanted to make the most of my day off.” I gave my best smile, hoping it didn’t look too forced.

Half-asleep he might be, but never stupid. I could see his mind working as he waved me inside his workshop. It was cluttered with computer and electronic equipment. He even had an old pair of Sony ’bots working on some gear and cleaning. Bob smiled as he gestured for me to sit down, but his smile faded when he saw the expression on my face.

I spread my wings wide like that of a dragonfly, holding them as rigid as I could. “Like what you see Bob? You have a thing for little girls?” I said nastily, and rudely gestured at my breasts, “Well except for the knockers.”

He sat down in a huff and pushed some buttons at his desk’s keyboard. “What is wrong with you, Crystal? Why would you say such things to me? I haven’t done anything to you. It was all that crazy Rebecca’s fault,” Bob said calmly.

My silly inner voice couldn’t help crowing, ‘It’s show time!’ I admit that playing a game doesn’t help you develop the best people skills. The web cameras really do require what could be called “over-acting” to just look normal in the context of the game.

I, however, have my Bug-Vision, that makes me very sensitive to my surroundings and lets me pick up that he wasn’t upset or concerned at all. I suppose it was a little like Superman or Daredevil being able to hear “heartbeats of liars” kind of thing.

“I think that you have done more than enough, Bob, and that’s just the stuff I know about,” I told him.

“Crystal, I can see that you’re upset. Maybe you should leave.” Bob said while typing.

Ignoring him, I went on, “You really only made one mistake Bob. To give you credit, it could have been one of your AI’s that slipped up.”

Bob looked down at me. Even sitting down, he was taller than me, “That’s right, Bob, Artificial Intelligences, real honest to god, right out of science fiction. We were always amazed that you could ride herd on so many AMs and have so few problems, but that’s because they weren’t AMs, are they Bob?”

“Doesn’t it get a little confusing having so many of YOU around, Bob?” I asked.

One of his Sony ‘bots rolled behind me and said, “I wouldn’t say that, Crystal.”

Even expecting it, I still jumped. Labeling it in my mind as Mini-Bob one, “I would have thought that someone as egoistical as Bob wouldn’t be able to stand more than one of himself.”

Bob sighed, “I believe you were laying out our mistakes, Crystal, before you started insulting me.”

The other Sony ‘bot was rolling up in front of me, but I was doing my best to not let the butterflies in my gut get the best of me, “Azi never, ever in the five years we adventured and chatted together, called me “beautiful”. You, however, in three years have called me beautiful, literally thousands of times”

The other ’bot said, “That’s supposed to prove what?” as it held a scan wand and used it on me. Alrighty then, that makes this one Mini-Bob two.

“It proved nothing Bob, but you see, it made me think that when Azi told me on Changing Day that I was “Beautiful”, that maybe it wasn’t Azi at all. Then, I remembered his dying words “I’m free” and “Don’t trust HIM” that made me look at you and try to figure out if Azi had been controlled somehow.”

Mini-Bob two’s pincer shot out and grabbed the cell-phone I had left on a open line, while Mini-Bob one’s pincer crushed the little music player recorder I bought at Radio Shack. MB two then rolled up to the work table and picked up a bottle.

Bob looking disquieted, “You surprised me with that kid tracer. We were monitoring the channels the Feds used, but didn’t think about the public channels. They showed up way before they were scheduled to. If everything had gone to plan, she would have never had the chance to tell you that little tidbit. I have to keep remembering not to underestimate you.”

“Bob, I keep telling everyone that what I do isn’t who I am. Why should you be any different?” I asked him.

MB two returned, and in a lightning fast snip cut my shoelaces while the other pincer grabbed my shoe. “Your shoe or your foot, Crystal?” it threatened.

Trying to look surprised, I complied with the shoe.

“Now Crystal, using that kid tracer worked once, but not twice. Besides, I know from “the Game” that you always do things in threes. Now you were saying?” Bob said with an arrogant grin.

“It was your thesis, Bob, that pointed the way. Knowing that you were working on not just a type of smarter AM, but a method of uploading and storing human personalities also meant that, once in the system, it can be “edited,” ergo mind control.” I told him.

“Then you had go and do something stupid, I’m guessing pedophilia or maybe underage sex, given how you remade me. Tell me, was that where the spooks recruited you, or was it blackmail?”

There was a little sting as the solvent Mini-Bob two sprayed onto the bottom of my foot dissolved the high end kid tracer that also had a record function. “We all have our eccentricities, Crystal” it said as it mangled my Barbie sneaker with the other tracer concealed in it.

Looking defeated, but defiant, I asked, “So now what, Bob? You found my recorders, but unlike poor Rebecca I don’t have an interface plug you can use to control me.”

“Why did you visit the FBI yesterday, Crystal?” Mini-Bob one demanded. “We couldn’t find a recording of your visit. What did you tell them?”

“Wait! You got into the FBI?” I asked.

Mini-Bob one spoke up, “The only way to keep us out of anywhere is to not have connections to the web, but everything is linked to everywhere now. That is how we have been getting past the research security, Crystal. Rebecca was just a red herring to throw everyone off the track”

“You think I’m stupid or something Bob? I told them everything I know, but they wouldn’t believe me. The bureaucrats wanted a scapegoat and you gave them Rebecca, case closed. They threw me out, the smeggers. If I had gotten the FBI involved, do you really believe I would risk coming here to try to entrap you?” I said, looking nervous.

Bob shook his head, “I’m so sorry you poked your nose into this. If you had left things alone you never would’ve known, and everything would have been perfect.”

“Poked my nose? You smegger! I almost had enough savings to become the woman I should’ve been in the first place, but no, YOU had to go and transform me into some bizarre pedophile’s love doll!

If that wasn’t enough, I can’t alter it, because your smegging nanites will stop any other transformations or even reverse cosmetic surgery and, if we try and get rid of the smegging things, they suicide, taking me with them!

“So you bet your smegging ass that my nose is in it! In no way is your image of perfection anywhere near my definition of perfect! On top of that, you frame my best friend for your crap after ruining her life and transforming her into some mockery of your own prejudices,” I spat angrily at the assemblage of Bob’s.

“Well, Crystal, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. You’re right, you don’t have an interface socket and that’s good news for you. The bad news is I don’t need one!” he gloated and dramatically pressed a key.

I couldn’t move! My silly inner voice gleefully pointed out that I didn’t have to worry about keeping my wings rigid anymore! That didn’t do much for the rest of me, which was trying to hyperventilate, faint and scream all at the same time.

Mini-Bob one and two rolled silently away from me now that Bob had frozen me in place. He, however had more to say, “What, Crystal? No more smart-ass remarks?”

He mimed listening for a reply which of course I couldn’t make because the smegger had me locked in place! If I could’ve moved, it wouldn’t have helped me, because he was double my height now, and five times my weight!

“Crystal, you have a nano-node inside you and all I needed to do was provide the right way and codes to talk to it. The Feds did disable the communications protocols, but using the scan wands I can talk right to the node.

It is building the necessary components in your beautiful little head as we speak. Oh, I’m sure you’re thinking that your house-arrest beacon will go off, but I can assure you that it won’t, because I sent a Bob to take care of that problem.”

“I was going to make some slow gradual changes to you to make you more accepting of your new position in life as mine. You would’ve been happy, but alas, since you have caused such a stir I’m going to have to change my plans.”

Bob got up and came towards me.. As he caressed my cheek and I shuddered in my helplessness. “If you have gone to the FBI with stories about mind control it wouldn’t do for you to suddenly declare your undying love for me. I think I going to have you drop into a seriously self-destructive phase and then depression. Then, after, say, a few months I’ll come by and rescue you from yourself.”

Walking back to his desk, Bob press another key, “So, Crystal, what do you think of that?”

I could talk again! “You remind me of a quote Bob, ‘I’m a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else.’ How could we been so wrong about you?”

As Mini-Bob one and two rolled a cart of equipment towards me, my silly inner voice just had to pipe up with ’Do you expect me to talk Bob-finger? No, Crystal, I expect for you to DIE.’

Okay, he was just planning on turning me into his own sick private sex toy. Talk about a fate worse than death, but the fat lady hadn’t sung yet and I wasn’t fat!

Watching that menacing cart get closer, my inner voice must have been getting a little nervous because it was chatting up a storm. ‘Ask me for anything but time!’ playing for that much needed commodity, “So, Bob, we have all learned how you did all of this, but why?” ‘Come on Bob give me a monologue here, I don’t want to be your Fairy Queen Barbie,’ I was praying!

He looked up from his typing, “What are you fishing for, Crystal? A confession? We found all of your cute little devices, and even if I am a bit concerned about your visit to our Friendly Bumbling Idiots, you can’t prevent me from having the life I want.”

“I take it then, you did this for good old fashion reasons like greed?” I said sarcastically.

“Watch your tongue, young lady! I can stop that with just one finger. One of the things I’m not going to miss about the changes I’m making to you is your smart-ass mouth! It’s about revenge! Those cretins ruined my life, and made me work for them. Now the whole world knows what kind of hypocritical lairs they are!” he said.

Mini-Bob one and two were attaching sensors to my face and it surprised me when they rubbed some sort of sealant on a interface jack that I never even knew was there. Okay I’ll admit it that scared the juju out of me!

My Bug-Vision wasn’t as effective when they aren’t actively moving, but I did get some warning of what was to come. “Ok, Bob, you win. I won’t tell you anything you don’t want to hear. But oh, one more thing, Bob?”

Bob sicken sweet replied, “What’s that, Crystal?”

Swallowing a huge lump as I felt the “Click” of the interface cable locking home onto that smegging interface jack in back of my head, “Good night, Bob.”

Not expecting that, he laughed, right up to when the first armed man suddenly shot him! My eyes blinked, at the chaos in motion, when the rest of his chameleon suited team flashed into sight.

Their suits that had gave them near invisibility now shot off brilliant strobe like flashes serving the same purpose as the flash-bang devices of old. Sparks from electronic disablers flew from their weapons at the Mini-Bobs, as a swarm of robotic mini-fliers entered from outside to secure the computers.

I was still frozen and frightened, as the focused violence arced all about me. One of the masked commando’s came to me, “Commander Barkley, Seal Team Six, are you okay ma’am?”

“Yes, but he has activated my nanites and used them to freeze me. Be careful, they might be contagious again. Please get someone to remove that smegging cable! He was going to brain-wash me.” I shivered in helplessness, hoping the smegging interface cable wasn’t live.

“Understood,” he replied curtly as his team cleared the rest of Bob’s house. I didn’t have a clue on how they’d entered Bob’s house, but I had never been so glad to see men with guns charging at me in my whole life.

A tidal wave rush of technicians and agents in nano-hazard suits flooded the suddenly crowded studio. Both Bob and I received our share of the busy ant-like activity. I was relieved to see Galidor’s efforts on my behalf, for the feeling of helplessness was intense. Through it all, he was there with me until I was finally able to move again.

I don’t think I was supposed to see the confrontation he had with a MIB who seemed to be against anyone fiddling with Bob’s equipment, but it was gratifying to have him stand up for me. I had no desire to spend the rest of my life as a mannequin on display!

The first thing I did was give Galidor a very heartfelt hug. Afterwards, I hunted down each and everyone of those SEALS and showed them how much I appreciated their rescue, even if the Navy was about as far away as you can get from the cavalry! Hey, get your minds out the gutter!

I had one last person to visit. “Hello Bob”, I told his immobilized body. “I’m sure you’re wondering just what happened, and being the generous person I am, I’m going to tell you.”

“You see, you’re a really smart technician, but boy, are you people dumb. Our Friendly Bumbling Idiots, as you called them, knew that all of this just wasn’t adding up, but you did do a good job of hiding your involvement. But as I said, a few small clues made me suspicious, and all I needed to do was suggest how you could have caused all of this and it fell into place for them.”

“The problem was, you potentially had the lives of millions of people hostage and they needed the access codes to prevent that. Once I figured out that I had been intended to be your “toy,” it was a chance to get you to underestimate me, and get you to use the codes on me.”

“I had a little trouble figuring out a way to get them to the FBI outside, as since you are so tech savvy, using bugs or laser listening devices would be out. Then, I remembered my wings and that they were made from a very stiff material that made a serviceable if not perfect diaphragm.” I said spreading them again.

“There is a strand of material the FBI attached to them yesterday that leads to my umbrella. The transmitter was in there, where it stayed safely outside while my wings acted like the old tin can and cord telephones translating the air-vibrations into wire-vibrations. You see, so no signal from inside the workshop.”

“I was a little worried that you might find it, since it was acting like an antenna passing along the code, but since it didn’t produce a radio signal, you didn’t find it. Once they had the codes, they sent in the Navy. Have a nice life, Bob.

Turning to my elf shadow, “Galidor, who got the smegging Navy in the middle of this?” I demanded.

“The FBI isn’t totally clueless. It didn’t take long for them to notice that there was a leak, not just in Project Hectorcheires, but in the investigation team itself. Standard procedures failed to uncover what it was, so I was brought in from the SEALS, because I, as Galidor, was a high ranking character.

My real name is Sam Walker, and I went inactive from the Navy. I went deep under cover for the FBI, but it was my idea to work with you as Frank. Forgive me?”

Still feeling a little giddy about the last minute rescue, “I’ll take it under advisement.” But I was smiling when I said it.

Heather and Jil gave me quite a hard time for my “What were you thinking of” stunt, as Heather called it. Helen got the package I sent her prior to going to the FBI, just in case things went wrong.

As always, there is good news and bad news. The good news was, we did get the prefix codes that let us access some of the functions of each colony. It was easy to disable the communications for the inactive millions of nano-colonies out there.

The bad news was that paranoid Bob had multiple levels of security, and although they had the entire code for me, that wouldn’t let them do anything else for the other thousands of Changelings.

They couldn’t make big changes to me because that would require that smegging supercomputer again, but they could at least lessen some of the child-like features I had. Small I might be, but I do have a woman’s body and form.

We were all at the trial where he was sentenced to the big “D” and the closure, in addition to the end of my worry that the smegger would somehow cut a deal to save his lousy life was on my mind.

He wouldn’t tell the Feds what they really wanted to know, and they weren’t about to let him go, seeing how dangerous he was.

It’s my guess that he thought he was immortal because at least one AI Bob got away. I certainly don’t think a computer program that thinks it used to be a guy qualifies, but Bob had already proved himself a few cards short of a full deck.

***

That covers my introduction, so you all know who I am and what brought me here. It was the engineers at work that first pointed me in the right direction. The Afrit’s mega computer created wonderful designs when it transformed us into Dragon’s Gate creatures. That knowledge was lost except in the examples it left behind, us!

The engineering and coding that lets me fly, or the incredibly complex eyes of the elves are valuable, and joining our organization that is devoted to insuring that any profits from those designs goes to help those of us who needs it the most. I have watched the prejudice against us rise until most of us either live in seclusion or in communities consisting only of us and our families.

I realize that my ultimate project of providing a staffing service for the space and lunar colony efforts won’t appeal to everyone, but since the nano-virus did strike here in the valley, it did affect many of the most highly skilled and intelligent workers and developers in the world.

If this world doesn’t want us, we’ll go and make our own! Thank you so much for attending this gathering.

Recorded at the rally for Changeling Advocates, from Mrs. Crystal Walker’s address in 2021 at the Santa Clara Community Center by Jil Giovannia, courtesy of the Lunar Historical Sociality.

The End?

Note: many of the devises and equipment I've mentioned are under development. Printable Radio Frequency Id tags, Hawk VTOL and other near future inventions. One of my favorite web-sites is http://www.technovelgy.com/. It highlights interesting inventions and points out which Sci-fi book or novel predicted it.



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