Westworld

Westworld

April 3, 2028

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the CEO of Future Global, Malcom Sanders.”

The lights in the conference hall dimmed and a spotlight appeared on a man dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and a Hawaiian aloha shirt as he walked across the stage. After an initial robust round of applause the attendees fell silent. Malcom Sanders was the latest Silicon Valley technology wizard that had quickly established himself far above his competitors in recent years. His appearances were rare but always accompanied by life and market altering innovations.

“Today marks a new era in the history of the world’s entertainment industry. In the heart of the Indian Ocean a new island has risen.” A satellite image appeared behind him that slowly zoomed into a small dot clearly visible from space. “This island was not created by nature, but rather built and engineered. It spans nearly 6.4 million acres.” The image grew on the screens until physical features began to appear on the surface. It looked remarkably like Utah with towering islands of rock, rivers, deserts, and forests. The images transitioned to making it feel that you were flying over the landscape. Details began to emerge. Buffalo ran across the prairie, vultures flew in the sky, and a train belched smoke in the distance. The screens followed the train as it pulled into an old west town bustling with stagecoaches, horses, and people.

“Welcome to Westworld, the largest most technologically advanced theme park in the world.”

Malcom paused with good effect letting the images of the world before them speak for themselves.

“Malcom Sanders will now take your questions. You sir, in the front row. Please ask your question.”

“As incredibly realistic as this looks, how is this different from any other ‘live action’ theme parks?”

“An excellent question. Inside this theme park are thousands of ‘actors’, each living out their life according to their program. Visitors will become an integral component of the actor’s lives, altering their story and interacting with them in such a way that makes the world real. Switch to the live feed please…”

The screens flickered and the town reappeared. “Find Mary Halliday.” An overlay on the town appeared highlighting people in red and green hues. The camera isolated one red tinted person then zoomed in. The overlay was removed and the camera now followed the movement of a lovely brunette woman. “Meet Mary. Mary is a nineteen year old woman. Her father lives in the hills several miles north of town. She comes to town twice a week to pick up supplies. Her father is ill and can’t make the trips himself.”

A man approached Mary. “Overlay and audio please.” A red tinting appeared over Mary and a green hue appeared over the man. “Mary is an actor which is represented by the red coloring around her. The man approaching her is a guest. Let’s remove the overlay and listen in…”

“Excuse me, ma’am. I couldn’t help but notice you. You’re very beautiful. I’m new in town and would enjoy the company of such a fine woman as you.”

The woman halted and looked the man over. “That’s very kind of you to say, sir. Unfortunately, I must get back to my father. He’s ill and is awaiting my return. Good day, sir.” She turned to leave but he grabbed her arm. “Unhand me, sir!” Undaunted the man pulled the woman through the streets.

“The lady asked you to let her go.”

The man looked up the street to see a weathered looking cowboy slowly walking towards them. “She’s mine!”

“I’ll give you to the count of three to let her go.”

The man pushed the girl aside who tripped on her dress and fell into the dusty street. He pulled aside his slicker to show the weathered cowboy his holstered pistol. “This is none of your business.”

“It is now.” The weathered cowboy pulled back his hand and let it hover over his six-shooter. The young woman looked back and forth between the two of them.

The man drew his weapon but the cowboy was faster and a shot rang out. The guest slumped to the ground amid cries and shouts from the people in the conference room.

“Audio off. No need to worry. The guest will wake up unharmed in his room about thirty minutes from now. There are repercussions to your actions, but no guest ever comes to harm. Mary, will remember the man and stay away from him. She might even become more cautious over time. The guest and this incident has become a part of her life.”

“I still don’t understand. These are simply people acting out their script.”

“Are you single, sir?”

“What?”

“I asked if you’re single. You’re not wearing a wedding ring and it appears you’re here alone. Are you single?”

“Yes, but why does that matter?”

“Send out Cherry, please.”

A voluptuous woman walked out onto the stage. “Hello, Malcom.” She reached out her hand and touched his shoulder, letting her fingers linger there.

“Cherry, would you give this man a kiss?”

“Of course.” The man looked a little shocked as Cherry sashayed her way over to him. She wrapped her arms around the man and kissed him then stood to the man’s side.

“Tell me, did you notice anything different about Cherry?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Cherry is an actor. Cherry, please show the audience what it means to be an actor.”

“I’d be happy to.” Cherry pulled at her chin and peeled away her face leaving a man-made substructure underneath.

“Everyone, our actors are robots.” There was a gasp that rippled through the crowd. “Cherry is completely anatomically accurate. She has body heat, a pulse, can feel, and has her own personality. She picks out her own clothing in the morning, and lives her life according to the constraints of our programming. You see, real people as actors would never work as at the end of the day they must go back to their real lives. To make an environment like Westworld truly real, we must have actors that believe this is their life. There is a rhythm in Westworld where actors and guests create a truly authentic experience.”

“Ma’am, you have a question?” A lady from the crowd stood.

“Why the old west? That guest that just got shot is probably not enjoying himself.”

Malcom smiled. “All of us live in a digitally connected world. You have multiple communication devices with you as you stand there. There’s never a moment or place it seems that you can truly disconnect from the world and live a more simple life. Most people dream of such a life, even as they receive twenty messages from work and their family in the time it takes to go to the bathroom.” The crowd laughed. “The old west is simple, unhindered, and unstructured. A guest can take full control to live however they like. That man chose to access the darker side within him and tried to take that which didn’t belong to him. I’ve no doubt that had his method of approach been different with Mary, he would have had a much more amicable outcome.”

“You’re saying she would sleep with him?”

“Perhaps. All of our actors are predisposed to welcome relationships with the guests. Some male and female actors are much more willing to engage in amorous activities with the guests than other actors.”

“It sounds like Westworld’s more of a brothel than a theme park.”

“Our statistics show that over fifty percent of our guests engage in sexual activity at least once during their stay. However, you may be surprised to know that robbing a bank, joining a posse, having a gunfight, and getting into a brawl in a saloon are almost as high. You may also be surprised that our female guests indulge in sexual encounters at a slightly higher rate than their male counterparts. I do understand where you are coming from. The old west isn’t for everyone. Our island is broken up into three areas and Westworld takes up only one third. By 2030 Futureworld will open and by 2032 Fantasyworld will open.”

“We will take three more questions. You sir, with the black tie.”

“What will Futureworld and Fantasyworld by like?”

Images filled the screen of Futureworld being built and ground breaking of Fantasyworld along with concept art. “As you can see by the pictures, Futureworld is well underway. If you’re familiar with the latest media release of Star Wars XI, then you could picture yourself as an intergalactic mercenary, or an assassin on a mission to remove the leader of the dark forces. You’ll have the ability to travel to multiple planets. Fantasyworld is the world I’m most excited about and will have far more technology than the other two worlds combined. There will be castles, princes and princesses. Sword fighting and fire-breathing dragons that fly through the air. You could choose to be a fighter trying to win the hand of a princess, a sorceress casting fireballs at her enemies, or, if you remember the story The Sword in the Stone, a ruler of kingdoms should the sword accept you.”

Another member of the audience stood. “Why build an island in the Indian Ocean?”

“Have you tried to find over six million acres of uninhabited land? It was far more cost effective to build rather than buy. We were also able to choose a geographic location that will allows us to better maintain the environment’s climate. Besides, if a guest fails to pay, the only way to leave is a very long swim.”

“And now the final question. In the second row, ma’am?”

“How much will it cost for a guest?”

“The average all-inclusive cost for a guest to spend a week in Westworld is one million dollars.”

“At that price only the world elite would be able to afford it.”

“We understand that, but the cost to build a single actor is nearly one million dollars. We must be able to recoup our expenses.”

“That will be all for now. Thank you and good night.”

***

November 30, 2032

“Are you sure you want to do this? What kind of message will this send to the public?”

I looked over at Dustin Chambers, who had interned with me and my campaign manager, and smiled wearily. “I never knew going into politics would change my life so dramatically. Everything I say is fact-checked before I complete my sentence and every action is questioned by multiple factions as to my intent. Hell, even last week when I went to a restaurant for an old fashioned burger the media went crazy debating if I was against the soy farmers or for the slaughter of innocent animals. The answer is yes, I need this and I don’t care what people think. You’ve even been hinting I needed a vacation and for the past year someone has been leaving ads on my desk about this destination. We fought long and hard to retain my senate seat. I’m being groomed by the party as a potential presidential candidate for the 2034 election. I need a break.”

“You know the media will have a field day with this, Michael. Besides, Future Global has had a lot of glitches over the past few years. Guests getting killed, actors going rogue, and, of course, you can’t forget about the conspiracy theories. And why Westworld? Why not Futureworld or the newest location that just opened, Fantasyworld? If I had a few million to throw away, I’d go to Fantasyworld and kill myself a dragon. The latest ads show that if you kill the black dragon you win the hand of the princess. She’s gorgeous!”

I laughed. “There’s something to be said about the simplicity of the old west. Even with the glitches, I’ve been promised a full refund if anything goes wrong. They’re confident everything’s been addressed.”

“That’s what the last guest said before he got sliced in two by a laser gun in Futureworld.”

***

“Bring up next week’s guest list. Who do we have coming?” Malcom sat back and watched the pictures and names of the most promising guests flash by.

“We’ve got the usual mix, but only one outstanding guest.” The screen froze with a picture of a gray-haired man. “Michael Stevens, fifty-six years of age, just re-elected for his third term in the United States senate. Widowed, no children. We’ve been wooing him for over a year and have carefully prepared for his arrival. He’s considered to be the odds-on favorite for the next president of the United States.”

“He’s exactly who we need. Make sure nothing goes wrong with this one. Keep the media at bay. We’ll provide inside coverage we can leak to the media to give our sales a boost. Nothing scandalous. I want it to look like he’s having the time of his life.”

“Yes sir. We’ve got it covered.”

***

I had to admit I was very impressed. I’d been picked up in front of my house by a limousine that took me to the airport. A private luxury supersonic jet flew me to Future Global’s island in just over five hours. I was pampered with the best wine and food I’d ever had on a plane before. As soon as we landed and taxied to a stop, the entire plane descended on a giant elevator into the bowls of the island. Upon exiting the plane I was personally greeted by a woman dressed in a crisp dark blue dress skirt.

“Welcome to Future Global, Mr. Stevens. I’m Bethany Douglas. I trust your flight went well?”

“It was the most comfortable flight I’ve ever had.”

“Please, walk with me, Mr. Stevens.” I noted over a dozen planes and helicopters within the underground hanger as we moved to a large solid door. Everything appeared pristine, clean, and high-tech. “I know we’ve confirmed several times, but I want to make sure you’ve not had any last minute changes in your visit selections.”

“No changes. I’ve had a very busy life the past few years and I’ve been looking forward to this getaway.”

“I’ll be taking you straight to our guest preparation chambers and then you’ll be free to start your adventure of a lifetime. Would you like to sleep or rest before you begin, Mr. Stevens?”

I smiled. “I could use a rest, but I doubt I could sleep. You might think it odd, but I’ve been dreaming of lying out under the stars next to a campfire, no phone or communication devices anywhere near me. I’m a huge fan of Louis L’amour. What’s it like? Have you been to Westworld?”

Her smile was genuine. “Oh yes! I’ve been to them all now. Even the latest park, Fantasyworld. I really enjoyed each of them. In Westworld I decided to try my hand at being a ‘lady’ in a brothel. Let me say that it was a highly enjoyable experience.”

I looked at her and noticed she appeared unashamed by what she had done. “You don’t appear to me to be the brothel type.”

“That’s the beauty of what we offer here, Mr. Stevens. We all have our secret fantasies. I lived mine for three days. You’d be surprised by how focused you can be once you return to work after one of these vacations. Your mind can let go of the fantasies we tend to focus on and your productivity soars. I’d encourage you to indulge your fantasies while you have the chance over the next week. Try not to analyze the environment and live in the moment.”

“I’ll certainly take that into consideration.”

I was led down a series of hallways and into a guest preparation room. “According to your pre-trip assessment notes we have a complete outfit for you, true to period. You will have a pair of pistols, which in every sense of the word are real weapons, however, no real harm could ever come from shooting the wildlife, actors, or other guests. You have enough money to pay for lodging, food, drinks, and services as you see fit. Keep in mind that if you lose your money, you’ll need to find more any way you can. There are criminal actors within Westworld which will not hesitate to steal from you. Here is your change room. Strip completely, including all jewelry. You’re not allowed to take anything into the room beyond. This protects you from losing your valuables but also helps with our internal security. I understand you wear contacts, those must also be removed. We have supplied period glasses to match your prescription. Once you strip, enter the room beyond. There’s a scanner between the rooms that will sound an alarm if any non-biological items pass through to the next room. Trying to sneak anything into Westworld would be a violation of our contract and you would leave here without a refund and subject to penalties. I know this has been rather long winded, but from this point on you’ll have no contact with us until your exit. Do you have any questions, Mr. Stevens?”

“None, thank you.”

“Then I wish you well, Mr. Stevens.”

I stepped into the change room and the door automatically closed and locked behind me. The room was comfortably appointed with a bathroom and lockers with biometric locks. A video was playing to remind me to not take anything with me into the next room. I stripped and removed everything, placing it carefully into one of the lockers and secured the lock with my hand print. I walked over to the next door and placed my hand on a second biometric reader. An audible voice sounded.

“Access granted. Please proceed into the next room.”

The door slid aside and I moved into the next room. The room was rustic with roughhewn wood and Spartan accommodations. My clothing was all hanging from a clothes rack. I quickly changed, anxious to start my vacation of a lifetime. It took several minutes to figure out the various layers and find the right place for my money bag. A door with a rusty metal latch led outside. I placed my hand on the latch and closed my eyes as I pushed the door open.

I stepped out into a train station. Several dozen people were moving to and from the train and the platform. Everything looked so real. The train belched out smoke and a whistle blew. “Ten minutes to all aboard!”

“Ya better git yur ticket if yur goin to Modesta.” I looked to see a grizzled old man pointing me in the direction of the ticket office.

“Thank you.” I murmured, and then thought about my Louis L’amour books. “Much obliged.” I smiled as I tipped my cowboy hat. I hurried over to the ticket booth but was interrupted by a young woman in a blue dress, umbrella, and flowered hat.

“Sir… Please sir.” Her voice had a sense of urgency to it.

“How may I help you, ma’am?”

“Are you going to Modesta?”

“I am.”

“I don’t mean to be forward, but you look like a kind man. I’m in danger.”

“What kind of danger? Should I notify the sheriff?”

“No! Please no! The sheriff is the reason I’m in danger. My father has a gold mine and the last time we were in Modesta the sheriff saw him exchange his bag of gold. He followed us back into the hills. My father was smart and knew we were being followed so he led the sheriff away from the mine and away from me. I trailed a ways behind and hid when I witnessed a confrontation. I watched the sheriff murder my father. I hid for two days and went back to town. I quickly boarded a train back to our home to go through my father’s belongings. I feel stupid even saying this, but I couldn’t retrace my steps back to the mine and I needed my father’s map and survey. You see, there’s gold and belongings hidden at the mine. This now belongs to me but I need help. I need protection. I’m also afraid to even mention this, but I’m short on money and need a ticket to Modesta. Would you help me?”

“Stay right here.” I headed to the ticket window. “Two tickets to Modesta please.”

I walked back to the young lady and handed her a ticket. “Michael Stevens at your service.”

She smiled warmly with tears in her eyes. “I knew I had a good feeling about you, Mr. Stevens. My name’s Charlotte. Charlotte Adams.”

“Well then, Miss Adams, we should get on the train.” I extended an arm to her.

***

An elderly Asian man exited a plane. “Mr. Enpo, to what do we owe this unexpected visit?”

“Malcom Sanders, I’m pleased you chose to meet me yourself. I understand you have Michael Stevens as a guest and since I’ve not toured your facility yet, I thought this was a perfect time to verify the results for the Order.”

“Please, come with me. How much do you know about what we do here?”

“Not enough so please indulge me by starting from the beginning.”

***

Inside a control room a team of four people monitored Michael’s movements. “Increase Charlotte’s desire for Mr. Steven’s but don’t make it too obvious.”

“Yes, sir. Would you also like me to increase or decrease the sheriff’s recognition of Charlotte?”

“Decrease it for now. Let Mr. Stevens get settled for a day or two. It will take them that long to gather the necessary items to go into the hills. This will allow their relationship to grow. Make sure the sheriff sees Charlotte when they head out of town.” The leader of the team turned to an older gentleman sitting behind them. “Is your team ready?”

“I don’t know why we waste time on this charade. I’ve already proven we only need twenty four hours of recorded brainwave activity before we do the transfer.”

“You and I both know that Malcom wants the best transfer possible. Do I need to remind you about the Ambassador to China and how speeding things up almost lobotomized him? Is our host fully prepared?”

The old man waved a hand irritably. “Just get him to me in two days. We’re using a three-year old host so the transfer will be seamless.”

***

Malcom walked with Mr. Enpo down a long glass hallway. “As you recall, we started Westworld with robots, however, mechanically we struggled to maintain them all and over time their ability to think logically locked into structured patterns.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Consider a computer playing a game of chess. At some point every possible pattern of the chess board will have been seen by the computer. The computer will eventually learn how to win under every circumstance. The decisions made by the computer will become rote and repetitive. We found the same thing with the robots. We tried to program them with flaws, even tried stimulating them with induced dreams to make their brains more fluid in different circumstances. To make a long story short, the robots simply didn’t work out and our goals couldn’t be met by such flawed devices.”

“Is that why our first replacements failed?”

“During our guest’s stay we use sensors to map their brain functions. Because we control the environment and record every action, our brain maps of them become exceptionally accurate. Our first brain map to robot transfer was extremely successful, but the robot brain core eventually demonstrated its logic flaws. Once we saw that the robot was no longer acting like their copied hosts, we were forced to bring the real human back from stasis and put them back into the world. This set us back at least a year.”

“That’s when you switched to living people?”

“Exactly.” Malcom stopped in a lab and lifted a syringe. “This is our greatest invention. This injection contains millions of nanobots that will find their way into a person’s brain. We can then see and hear everything the person does. More importantly, we can control the person. We began by replacing our robot actors with real people that we controlled with our injections. This was far less costly as the mechanical robots were constantly breaking down and we could program the ‘actors’ to live their life based upon a set of rules. At first, we attempted to simply inject our guests and send them back into the world with our programming. This was met with limited success as our programming took time. In order for a brain to fully become acclimated to the nanobot programming and not fight against it, it takes several months.”

“So how is this overcome when you only have a week with a guest?”

“We combined the brain map transfer with hosts that had been ‘actors’ for at least six months. The longer we’ve had the actor the more seamless the transference.”

“Explain to me how we’ll have full control over Michael Stevens and no one will ever know it’s not him.”

“First, we let Michael stay with us a few days as we map his brain functions. We then sedate him, inject the nanobots and institute our control programming. Next we will take a malleable host, a host that’s been under nanobot control for at least six months and transfer the brain map from Michael into the host and the host’s into Michael. This will assure that we have full control of Michael’s brain.”

“So if I understand correctly, you swap Michael’s brain into another body and take the malleable brain that was in that body and put it into Michael.” Malcon nodded. “How does the new malleable brain then know about Michael’s life?”

“We have one final step. We finish the process by copying Michael’s memory map back into Michael’s body.”

“Why are all those steps necessary? Why even copy Michael’s brain into the host?”

“Our host’s brain is a blank slate, wiped clean from hindrances over months of programming. Once we re-insert a copy of Michael’s memories, we now have, in essence, a fully functional Michael-bot. His exact body, DNA, everything. We have no mechanical way of truly backing up Michael’s brain, thus by putting his brain into another host we achieve two things. We can recover Michael within six months if we ever need to and it replaces our actor for our theme parks. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to know some of these people will now become sex objects for our guests.”

Mr. Enpo smiled maliciously.

***

The train ride to Modesto took several hours but that was fine with me. Charlotte kept me riveted with her history and how much interest she showed in me. She was so realistic that after the first thirty minutes I stopped thinking of her as a robot and simply fell into role play. When we first got on the train I was watching her eyes closely and looking for telltale signs she wasn’t human. I didn’t find any.

When the train came to a stop I extended my hand to help Charlotte to her feet and I marveled at the soft warm touch of her fingers. She squeezed my fingers tenderly as she stood. A large man had got up near us and accidently bumped into Charlotte sending her falling into me. I grabbed her around her shoulders to steady her and found my nose buried in her hair. I inhaled deeply and smelled her sweet scent. She raised her face and her eyes met mine. She smiled and held my gaze.

“Can I trust you, Mr. Stevens?”

“Of course, Miss. Adams.”

“Then I propose we form a partnership. The people of Modesto, with the exception of the sheriff, don’t know either of us. Let’s pose as husband and wife. It will help us keep our costs down and allow us to stay together. Of course, if you feel I’ve already imposed on you too much, then I’m fine making my way to my father’s mine alone.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m more than happy to make sure you’re safe, Miss. Adams.”

She smiled so beautifully and leaned in to kiss me. “That would be Mrs. Stevens, or Charlotte would be even better.” Her lips were so soft and tender. It had been years since my lips touched another woman’s and Charlotte was a woman of exquisite beauty. “Here, put this on.” She handed me a worn, but smooth gold ring. “It belonged to my father.”

“What of your ring, Charlotte?”

“I have my mother’s with me as well. I took what few cherished belongings I had with me from my home.”

“Then let me help you from the train, Mrs. Stevens.”

Stepping out of the train and getting my first glimpse of Modesto was like stepping out of a time machine. The sun was about ninety minutes from sunset and getting low on the horizon casting long shadows that cut through the rising dust of the streets. I could smell the horses and the scent of desert sage as the breeze moved towards the east. I stepped down onto the wooden platform and turned to place my hands on Charlotte’s incredibly thin waist, lifting her down the last step to the platform next to me.

“Why thank you, kind sir.”

“My pleasure, beautiful lady.” Charlotte giggled at that.

“The hotel is down the street on the west side, across from the saloon. We should try to get a room for the night and then tomorrow find gear and horses to take us into the hills.”

I nodded as Charlotte slipped her arm into mine and extended her umbrella to shade her face from the slowly setting sun. For such a small town, Modesto was bustling with activity. Stagecoaches came and went and people walked upon the raised wooden walkways in front of the mercantile and other shops. As we approached the hotel I spotted ladies wearing tight-fitting corsets that pushed up their ample breasts. They were leaning over the upper railing of the saloon trying to entice men inside. A few even frowned when they spotted me with Charlotte.

I turned the handle of the wooden door to the hotel and let Charlotte enter first. We were greeted by a man that was busy with paperwork. “Welcome to the Modesto Hotel. Will you be looking for a room for the night?”

“We are.”

“And what additional services will you need? A hot bath is twenty-five cents extra.”

I looked at Charlotte who gave me a nod. “We’ll take the room and the hot bath. Is there a place I can get a bottle of whiskey?”

“The only place in town to get that is at the saloon across the way. That will be one dollar please. To get to your room go up the stairs, turn right and it’s the last room on the left. I’ll send my boy up with hot water for the bath.”

“Thank you.”

I turned to Charlotte who extended her arm again as I led her up the stairs. I was still marveling how things were so much simpler here. Getting a hotel room back in the United States involved providing identification, credit cards, and usually all kinds of signatures.

We entered the room and closed the door behind us. Charlotte placed her umbrella on the floor in the corner of the room and unfastened her hat, carefully putting it aside. With a few deft moves, her blond hair spilled over her shoulders. She walked over to me and placed her hands on my shoulders. Her eyes sparkled. For a brief second I wondered how any robot could be so realistic but that thought vanished when her lips met mine.

“I’m not usually this forward and I’m afraid you might think less of me for kissing you so brashly, Michael. It’s just that I’ve never felt so comfortable and safe around anyone before and…” She held up her ring. “… we are married after all.” Her smile lit up her face.

Four years. It had been four years since my wife had passed away and I never considered taking another woman to bed in that time. I recalled my conversation with Bethany to indulge my fantasies. This was a time for me to relax and break free of the structured routines of my life. I reached out and cupped her face with my hand and kissed Charlotte back, my left hand encircled her tiny waist pulling her against me.

We stepped apart and I could see she was breathing faster and her cheeks flushed a delicate pink hue. “Why, Mr. Stevens, I do believe I’ve never been kissed so passionately before. I’d like to freshen up from our trip and I suspect the bath will be ready soon. Why don’t you take a little time and get us something to drink from the saloon as I indulge myself in a hot bath?”

There was no way I wanted to leave, but I did want to see the saloon. After all, I came here to experience the old west and wanted to experience everything I could. A knock at the door sounded and we found a young boy carrying two large buckets of hot water. He proceeded to begin filling the tub and go back for more. I figured there was nothing more Charlotte and I could do anyways so I turned to her and smiled. “I’ll be back soon. Would you like anything else?”

“I’m fine, Michael. Take your time and enjoy all the modern amenities of Modesto while you have the chance. Tomorrow we’ll be sleeping under the stars.”

I squeezed her hand and left the room, slightly grateful for a few moments to get my head together. She was perfect and I had to keep reminding myself that she was a robot and everything around me was a carefully crafted amusement park.

***

“Sean. How’s the system update coming for tomorrow night?”

Sean didn’t even look up from his monitors. “On track and on schedule as usual. Just a reminder that we’ve been running out of actor sequence numbers and I’ll be renumbering all the actors tomorrow night along with performing the system update.”

Nancy Simpson stood with her arms crossed looking at the wiry artificial intelligence programmer. She’d put up with Sean Kingwood for years because he was the most talented programmer they had at Future Global. The problem was that he knew it. “I’ll remind you that Malcom is onsite this week and this update needs to be flawless.”

Sean looked up and finally met Nancy’s eyes. He pushed his glasses back up his slightly crooked nose and considered telling Nancy off. He’d seen the seedy underbelly of the organization and the enforced slavery of real people over the years. He was also fully aware of Future Global’s hidden agenda to take over the world. He’d kept this knowledge to himself. Secretly, he wanted to be stronger, more handsome, more of a take-action kind of guy, but one look at Nancy tapping her foot waiting for his response made him want to run away. “I’ve triple checked the code myself. If you’ll excuse me, there’s a lot of prep work that needs to happen before we push the update tomorrow.”

Nancy turned and walked away, her clicking heels echoing through the room as she went. Sean tapped a few keys bringing up live pictures of Grace Westhold. Sean sighed as he looked at her and brought up her bio. He ran his fingers across the screen reverently. Samantha Rawlings was her real name. She’d been kidnapped while she was visiting her mother’s home city in Lebanon and brought to Future Global eighteen months ago. She’d only just turned seventeen at the time and Sean was given the task to program her new identity as the slightly rebellious, highly feminine, bisexual, Princess Grace Westhold for Fantasyworld. He traced her long dark hair with his fingertips and stared into her large vibrant blue eyes. “Soon.” He whispered. “You’ll be free soon.”

***

The saloon had been everything I’d imagined. A slightly out of tune piano was being played in the corner, poker games, saloon girls, and smoke-filled air that smelled of tobacco and strong whiskey. Several of the saloon girls had tried to entice me, but one look at them and I knew they weren’t for me. Charlotte was several classes above these women and I wanted nothing to do with the women that were only here for pleasure. I watched as a fight had broken out and was even startled to see it spill out into the street where guns were drawn. The victor, I assumed was a guest, strutted back into the saloon, grabbed several ladies, a bottle of whiskey, and headed upstairs for celebrations.

I grabbed a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses and headed back to the hotel. I paused at the door to my room and knocked lightly. “Are you decent, Mrs. Stevens?”

“Decent enough, Mr. Stevens.” Charlotte had a sweet and yet playful lilt to her voice.

I opened the door and could smell the humid and soapy air. A dark orange glow came through the west-facing window as the sun had recently set, framing Charlotte as she stood with her unbound hair cascading across her shoulders. A heavy towel was wrapped around her body. I kicked the door closed with my boot, my spur making a metallic jingle as I did so. She moved towards me dropping the towel to the floor, wrapping her arms around my neck and kissing me passionately.

I fumbled with the bottle and glasses, setting them down on a nightstand and then latching the door. I took in Charlotte and all her beauty. She was fantastic. Her body had a perfect hourglass figure with beautiful breasts. She was soft, but not fat. Her creamy white skin was so smooth to my touch. I was incredibly aroused and as we kissed and Charlotte wasted no time in removing my clothing.

We laughed, kissed, and touched until falling onto the bed together with a squeaky thump. I rolled her over onto her back and gently brushed her blond hair from her face. “I want you, Charlotte.”

She smiled and kissed me. “You must not be from around here as most men simply take what they want. If you’re asking, Michael, I want you too.” With that said she pulled me on top of her and I felt myself slide easily into her wet vagina. She moaned and arched her back with pleasure. Once again I struggled with the thought she was a robot, but she felt so real I pushed the thought aside as our love making increased its urgency.

***

“That was pretty hot. I mean we watch this stuff all the time, but Michael Stevens and Charlotte… I swear they were at it for hours.”

“Is watching guest porn all you ever do? How’s Michael’s brain mapping coming along?”

“We’re already at 90%. By tomorrow night everything will be ready.”

***

The next morning I was awakened by a kiss. “Good morning, Mr. Stevens.”

I looked up into the eyes of Charlotte and smiled, pulling her down into a lingering kiss. Last night had been amazing. Mind blowing. “Good morning, Mrs. Stevens.” I slid my hand down her bare back and pulled her on top of me.

“Mmmm. You feel very awake. Sadly, we need to get an early start on the day. That is if you still want to help me.”

I let her go but kissed her again. “Of course I want to help you.”

“Then I suggest we get dressed, get something to eat, and get going. “

I sighed and rolled out of bed but watched Charlotte out of the corner of my eye as she dressed. I wondered if Future Global had analyzed my taste in women and set this entire storyline in motion. Again Bethany’s words came to mind about allowing me to indulge my fantasies. I was more than happy to live out my adventure, even if it was scripted somehow.

The morning flew by as we ate and found the necessary gear and horses for a trip to the hills. With everything packed and the horses ready we mounted and headed out of town. I rode next to Charlotte, feeling quite comfortable in the saddle as I’d spent a few years learning to ride at an equestrian club. Charlotte gave a little gasp and kicked her horse to a gallop. It took a while before I caught up to her.

“Charlotte, what’s wrong?”

“When we were leaving town, I swear I saw the sheriff. I think he recognized me. We must hurry to get as far away from town as possible.” Her voice was frantic.

“Do you have the map?”

“I do.” She pulled the map from her saddle bag and handed it to me. It was crude but legible. I looked around to get my bearings.

“According to the map, we need to head northwest. However, if we head west, there’s a river that we can perhaps use to hide our tracks.”

The terrain had opened up and we were able to ride at a good speed without exerting our horses too much. The river turned out to be wide and shallow which was perfect for riding up and leaving little trace we were there. We rode a mile upriver before leaving it and heading north, northwest towards the mine. It was nearing sunset when we finally stopped for the night.

Charlotte had calmed down and seemed to be feeling more confident again. She busied herself getting some dinner together for us as I laid out our bedrolls. We decided not to have a fire as we didn’t want to attract the sheriff if he happened to be nearby. Tonight, at least, we’d be safe.

As dusk fell Charlotte and I settled in for the night. We used the horse blankets to cover us and she placed her head on my shoulder and cuddled close. I could tell she was frightened, yet she refused to give in to her fears. I wrapped my arms around her protectively and stared up into the night sky. There were so many stars and the night sky so dark. I never remembered feeling so alive before. This trip was worth every penny.

***

“Cue the scorpion and get the extraction team ready.”

“Everything’s in place. Ready to strike on your mark.”

***

I stayed awake for some time listening to the regular breathing of Charlotte and watching the moon rise casting a monotone glow across the desert. Coyotes howled in the distance. I went to kiss her forehead when I felt a sharp and powerful sting on my neck. Trying not to rouse Charlotte I bit my lip to keep from crying out and looked over my shoulder to see a scorpion crawling away. I started getting very sleepy and soon the sounds of the night drifted away.

***

Malcom Sanders looked down upon the body of Michael Stevens. The bright white lights, shining sterile floors, and glass walls of the transference room never ceased to thrill him. Every time a transfer was to take place he considered the impact he was making on the world. He was a God.

He looked over at the body of another man. This man was in his early twenties and much more fit than Michael, but had been with Future Global for three years and proved to be a popular selection among female visitors for their rendezvous. A holographic screen provided details of the second man. His actor reference number was A01121. Malcom looked over to Nancy Simpson. “Initiate the nanobot injection into Mr. Stevens.”

“Initiating…” Nancy hit a button on a computer and watched as a robotic arm moved a syringe into place near Michael’s neck. The robotic arm then moved forward injecting the nanobots into Michael before pulling away. A screen appeared with a three dimensional slightly transparent view of Micheal’s head that showed the nanobots spreading throughout his brain. Within minutes a beep sounded and the image showed equal distribution of the nanobots. Michael’s bio information then displayed on the screen with his name, picture, and new reference number of A12927 was flashing.

“We’re ready for transference, Mr. Sanders.”

“Initiate transference.”

“Initiating transference from A12927 to A01121.” The screen flashed and a horizontal bar indicated transference progress,

***

Sean Kingswood pressed a few keystrokes and watched his screen. A computerized voice sounded in his office. “Resequencing starting now.” Sean knew this would only take a few moments and used the time to hook himself up to the computer system. “Resequencing complete. All host reference numbers resequenced beginning at A012928. New host found – A12927. Would you like to begin resequencing again?” Sean frowned and typed ‘no’.

***

Nancy and Malcom were unaware the information on the screen just changed. The computer now showed “Transference from A12927 to unknown…” A message appeared. “Host A01121 reference not found. Transferring to next available host reference number A012928.”

***

Sean was unfazed by the resequencing glitch and initiated the systems update. The update included modifications to provide an internal back door for his personal new host. This would allow Sean to transfer himself into an actor that could alter his own programming and be tied into the network grid to alter other code as needed. With that in place he could secretly work to extricate himself and Grace from Future Global. His plan was carefully laid out.

First, Sean needed to transfer himself to a new host. Sean had never been happy with his looks and felt he would need a much stronger body to complete the tasks he had in mind. He’d already modified Princess Grace’s programming to find his new host trustworthy and to make her fall for him over time. Of course, he wanted Grace to fall for him because of who he is, but he knew it would take some time before he could safely clear her programming and stage everything for an escape. Having the opportunity to make love to Grace at least once was exciting for Sean. He also knew that over the next few days, Grace’s new programming would slowly work deep into her subconscious giving Sean an excellent chance that she would still look upon him favorably once her programming was eliminated. He needed her programming gone to get her out of Future Global.

Sean brought up his new reference number and bio. A picture of himself came up on the screen. He noted his new reference number. He then brought up the bio of Daniel Norland. A picture of a handsome man appeared and Sean noted his new reference number. A few more keystrokes brought up Grace’s bio and picture. “You’re mine, my sweet Grace. If you only knew all that I’m risking to set us both free. I even gave you the first number of the resequence as you’re by far the most beautiful of all our actors.” He glanced at her new reference number, A012928, smiled and initiated his own transference.

***

“Transference complete. A12927, Michael Stevens to, A012928, Grace Westhold.”

“What the Hell just happened?” Malcom shouted at Nancy.

Nancy was scrolling through computer screens frantically. “Oh God. Sean Kingswood resequenced the actors just as we started the transference. The transference program automatically picked up the next sequence number. Michael Stevens is now in the body of our famous Princess Grace. We’re in luck, however.”

Malcom slammed his fist down on the desk. “And why was this lucky?”

“Grace has been with us over a year. Her brain map will be a perfectly fine and malleable match for our programming of the new Michael.”

“That was damn lucky.” Malcom smiled ruthlessly. “I can’t imagine Michael waking up tomorrow finding he’s in the body of our most desired female actor. He deserves that fate. About Sean Kingswood. I don’t care if he’s our best programmer. Fire him! No. Kill him!”

“Yes, sir.”

***

Everything felt strange. I had such crazy dreams of men in white outfits standing around me, scorpions, and the feeling of floating weightless. And now? Now everything was just off. My body was slowly responding as I woke up. I opened my eyes and found myself in a huge bedroom with towering arched windows. Morning sunlight streamed through the windows and fell across the soft bed I was lying in. Bed? I was sleeping outside on the ground with Charlotte. How did I get in a bed?

“Good morning, Princess.”

I tried to speak, but felt somewhat disconnected. My mouth moved on its own accord and a soft sensual female voice emanated from it. “Good morning, Lily.” My body stretched and sat up as Lily placed some large pillows behind me. I could feel everything even though I wasn’t in control. It was as if I had to find my way out of a maze to get even a moment where I felt I had some control. I took one of those moments to look down and to my horror saw what I had felt on my chest as I sat up; two large breasts, barely contained within the thin silky fabric I was wearing.

“Would you like your breakfast in bed or by the window this morning, Princess?”

My mouth spoke again and I could feel myself become aroused as I looked over the lithe form of the young, attractive Lily. “By the window, Lily. I’d also like a bath this morning. Perhaps you and Alicia can join me again?”

Lily blushed bright red. “I’d be honored, Princess.” Lily pulled back the bed covers and I felt my body move and dangle my feet over the edge of the bed. Lily stroked her hands over my feet and slipped on some warm slippers. I stood on the floor as a cute redhead came into the room carrying a robe. I pulled Lily up and kissed her, then grabbed the redhead and did likewise.

“Mmmm. Good morning, Princess. I brought your robe.” The redhead slipped behind me and draped the robe over my shoulders but took special care to wrap it and her arms around me from behind as her lips met the back of my neck.

“You’re feeling frisky this morning, Alicia.”

“I’m always frisky around you, Princess.”

I felt so trapped and yet so connected to this body at the same time. I felt every nuance of this body. The tingle of my nipples as they hardened underneath the silk nightgown, the air on my hairless legs, the heat and moistness of my… God, what happened to me?

My body walked over to a table by the window and sat down. My legs crossed and I reached for some delicate fruits and meats to sample.

“I’ll ready the bath for us, Princess.” Lily bounded away humming lightly to herself. She was so adorable and I loved the way she tasted. Father never liked that I had a thing for other women, but it’s his own fault for selling me to the first man that brought in the head of the black dragon.

Where were these thoughts coming from? I was taking a vacation in Westworld. I was with Charlotte. Is this Fantasyworld? Have I somehow… I’m a robot? A female robot? My hand jerked at my thoughts and sent a plate of food crashing to the ground. “I’m so sorry, Alicia. Leave it for now. I’m ready for our bath.”

“Of course, Princess.” My body followed after Alicia as she headed towards the bath. For a brief moment I was able to take control as I passed a mirror. I paused to look at myself. I was tall for a woman, perhaps five foot ten. I was also very young. Maybe in my late teens. My dark hair flowed down my back to just above my waist. My large blue eyes, sculpted cheekbones, and full red lips gave me a look of timeless regal beauty. Alicia stood behind me and pulled my robe off my shoulders as I continued to stare at myself. My nightgown left nothing to the imagination, barely concealing my flawless light-olive skin, large D-cup breasts, waspish waist, and perfectly flat stomach. Lily joined Alicia and they both pulled the straps of my nightgown and let it fall lightly to the ground. I was stunningly beautiful and so enraptured by what I saw I once again lost control as I turned and kissed Lily, tasting the sweetness of her tongue against mine.

I watched from my peripheral vision as Alicia disrobed and took my hand to lead me to the large sunken bath. Lily joined us a few moments later and I was soon lost in their gentle touches and kisses. I’d never experienced anything so arousing and this body responded to every touch with ever increasing desire. By the time the bath had grown cold Lily and Alicia had several orgasms each and I must have had close to half a dozen. With each intense earth shattering orgasm my mind slipped further and further away from any control I thought I could steal. I had a few moments to assess my situation as I was drying off and struggled with the realization that I was a robot. I could understand a robot could be programmed to give pleasure, but to feel pleasure, the kind of pleasure I just experienced, made no sense to me. Something didn’t add up.

Lily and Alicia had changed and with blissful looks upon their faces kissed me again before leading me to the wardrobe. I got the impression that Lily and Alicia actually enjoyed themselves and were not merely catering to my needs out of obligation. Lily put on a slightly sad face. “You father has requested your presence this morning. Another suitor has asked about you.”

I felt my face frown. “I wish he would stop meddling in my life. If I ever get married off, would the two of you come with me?”

Alicia and Lily smiled. “Of course, Princess. What would you like to wear today?”

“You both know me so well. Anything that makes me look beautiful.”

Lily laughed at that. “That would be anything you own, or even a sack from one of the local farmers. How about this ivory-colored gown?”

“That would be wonderful.”

Over the next thirty minutes I was dressed in layer upon layer of silky material. Apparently because of my shape my corset didn’t need to be overly tightened, but I could feel the layers forcing me into a very formal posture. I felt like I was on autopilot but in a way that gave me ample opportunity to think. What happened to me? What happened to my real body? What happened to Charlotte? I couldn’t believe I was concerned about Charlotte, a robot, and her plight. Had I become so caught up in the plot that I lost myself? Was I some pawn in a larger scheme?

***

Malcom watched as the camera moved to follow the new Michael Stevens and Charlotte. Mr. Enpo stood nearby. “So that’s the new Michael?”

“We had a bit of a glitch last night, but everything worked out. Michael is completely under our control.”

“What kind of glitch?”

“It was a sequencing issue. One of our programmers resequenced our actor reference numbers at the same time we were performing the transfer. Michael was transferred into the wrong actor and we’ve had to strengthen his current program to avoid certain proclivities.”

“Proclivities?”

“His new host happens to be a slightly rebellious female princess that leaned toward bisexuality. We had to enhance Michael’s programming to make sure he wouldn’t respond sexually to another male or want to dress up in a feminine way.”

“That sounds like more than a glitch. What are you doing to make sure this never happens again? And what of the real Michael Stevens?”

“The programmer that caused all of this has been disposed of. The real Michael is likely fighting his new body and programming, but we know that will be a losing battle. Apparently he had his first lesbian sex this morning and from what I understand, his brain map has been quickly absorbing the new programming. He will always know something happened to him, but sooner rather than later he will find himself becoming more Princess Grace Westhold and less Michael Stevens. That process should take only a few weeks at his current rate of adoption.”

“When will the new Michael Stevens be back in place in the world?”

“We let him finish his week here. This allows us to carefully monitor his progress and test our control. He will be back to work as ‘our’ senator very soon.”

***

I found myself growing irritable as I waited for the guards to open the door to the throne room. Father always took his time even when he knew it was me that was waiting. Before the doors had opened completely I stormed through, hiking my delicate gown to make sure my feet didn’t catch any of the layers. “Father! I’m told you have yet another suitor for my hand. When will you let me live my own life and choose the one I want to marry out of love?”

The King, my father, glowered at me and stood. He was an imposing figure and walked quickly up to me. I had to look up into his intense eyes. That was until he slapped me and I collapsed on the ground. My hand went to my stinging cheek and I could feel the wetness from the tears that formed.

“You will not speak to me in that tone, young lady!” Then with surprising tenderness he lifted me to my feet and wrapped me in his arms. He led me over to a divan and sat me down, wiping the tears from my face. I struggled to be free of the confines. I wanted to yell and tell everyone that I was Michael Stevens. I looked up into my father’s eyes and sniffed. “Our lives are not our own. You need to understand that. You’re my daughter and I love you, but your rebellious nature can’t be tolerated. You have obligations.”

I started to wonder if all the robot actors lived a life like this away from the guests. In a way it made sense to build the story and make the actors more real. I thought of Charlotte and her story. She lived her life within the scripted confines of her story, but how much different was it for ourselves in real life? I felt my lips tremble as sadness overwhelmed me.

“I’m sorry, father. I wish I’d been born a simple peasant girl with no obligations.”

“And yet, look at you. There’s not been a day I haven’t seen you wearing the finest of dresses. You’re breathtaking and I know once you learn your place in this kingdom and your responsibilities you’ll one day be a fine ruler that the world will look up to for both your beauty and wisdom.”

I pouted and felt myself slipping further into the role. “What of the new suitor? Is he like the others that needs to kill the black dragon to win my hand?”

“The black dragon is a menace and has been burning our crops. Yes, if he wants your hand then he must kill the dragon.”

“Can I secretly feed the dragon so it remains strong? I’ve no desire to marry so young.”

My father laughed. “If the dragon lets you that close to feed it, then kill it yourself and I’ll consider letting you choose your husband.”

I knew he was simply toying with me but it wasn’t such a bad thought. What was I thinking? I’m Michael Stevens. A man. A senator. I’m not a princess. Yet one glance at myself and the feeling of my breasts confined within the corset suggested otherwise.

“The guards will take you to the castle square. There you’ll meet the new suitor and the others that are vying for your hand. Please be cordial to them. No one would be willing to kill a dragon for a rebellious and unfriendly princess.”

“I’ll be polite, father.”

“That’s what I want to hear. Now give me a hug and off with you. A reminder that tomorrow night is the royal ball.” We stood and I hugged my father tightly and directed the guard that I needed to stop by my room to make sure my hair and makeup were fine before entering the square.

Lily and Alicia were waiting for me and led me to the bathroom. They tenderly touched my face and I winced at the light bruising and pain. I loved how they doted on me and cared for me. In a few minutes they had helped me touch up my makeup and applied a light covering to mask my red cheek. I was grateful father hadn’t hit me harder.

I hugged and kissed Lily and Alicia. “Thank you both. I don’t know what I would do without you. The royal ball is tomorrow night. I want you both there with me.”

They jumped up and down. “We’ll make sure your dress is ready. Of course your suitors will capitalize on your time at the ball, but perhaps we can sneak away together for a dance?”

I smiled and came to a small epiphany. If I were a robot and I had certain programming, perhaps I could work within the programming and find a way to escape. “About my dress…” I paused realizing I was actually speaking. I was in control within the parameters of the programming. “I want to try something a little more daring.”

“Daring?”

“My father gave me an idea. He said if I killed the black dragon there was a good chance I could choose my own husband. Perhaps one of my suitors would help train me?”

“You’re so funny, Princess.”

“I’m not joking. I want to alter my dress to make sure my suitors can’t take their eyes off of me. You see this dress I’m wearing? They nodded. “What if we remove some of the layers underneath? Make the dress sleek and flowing.”

“That would be scandalous! What would your father say?”

“Father told me today that I need to think more like a ruler and to understand my role and my place. What better way to show him I’m taking control of my life for the betterment of the kingdom? Besides, it’s not like I’d be wearing anything that isn’t flattering. I’d never wear anything that’s not pretty.” That last sentence shook me up a little. I was in control but I said it. Could it be that my programming is playing with my psyche?

“We’ll work on it together while you’re away this morning. It’s very exciting.” They hugged and kissed me and I left my room as the guard escorted me to the castle square. I walked down hallway after hallway focusing on how this body felt. My hips swayed more from side to side and I could feel the weight of my hair on my head. My breasts bounced and jiggled with each step. Perhaps it was the programming, but this body felt incredible. My legs and thighs were perfectly smooth and hairless. They glided softly against the silk. My face felt firm and toned, nothing like my slightly sagging cheeks had been. I licked my full lips and felt their plump sensitive richness. I’m losing it. How long will it be before I’m thinking just like a young princess and completely forgetting my life before?

The guard opened the door and ushered me out into the castle square. I looked around at the lavish stone and flowering trees. I took a deep breath to center myself and the air smelled fresh and laced with scents of flowers. A herald pronounced my arrival. “Princess Grace Westhold.” I watched as the crowd that gathered took a knee.

My programming kicked back in as I had no idea what I was doing. “Arise, faithful citizens. As you’re well aware our kingdom faces a menace. The black dragon is the most ruthless and dangerous of all the dragons. Bring its head to my father and he’ll be forever in your debt. A debt he’s willing to pay for with my hand in marriage. I’m inviting each of you to the royal ball tomorrow night. For those of you that wish it, I’m here to grant you my blessing for the day.”

Men and women eagerly lined up to kiss my hand and seek my blessing. I was surprised to see some women seek an opportunity for a private rendezvous with me. I was a robot and I was there to please the guests. I assumed that was why I pulled one woman close when she slipped a note into my hand and I whispered a promise to meet her in the gardens the following day.

Then I saw him. I knew he wasn’t a guest, but there was a yearning and a drawing inside me as he knelt and kissed my hand. “I’ve not met you before, have I?”

“No, my lady. I’m new to the kingdom.”

I was strangely drawn to this young, handsome man; a thought that simultaneously excited and repulsed me. I was a man. I was M… I was Michael. I wrestled for control and to maintain my grasp on reality. It was an incredible battle for my mind that I knew I was slowly losing. He gently squeezed my hand and it felt like some clarity rushed back to me, to who I was. My memories returned. He smiled as he watched me pause.

“Do you have a moment we could speak in private, my lady?”

The guard stepped forward to grab the man and I put up my hand to halt the guard. I tipped my head, making sure it was me that was controlling it. “Yes...” It dawned on me that somehow this man made me think clearer and have more control. I needed to be careful and I certainly didn’t want to lose the control I now felt I gained. “…but my guard must stay close.”

His eyes showed understanding and he nodded his head.

“Guard, that’s enough greeting for today. When the other people have been escorted from the square, I will sit with this man. You can stand nearby in case I need you.”

“Yes, Princess.”

I stood patiently as the guests were asked to leave the square. I then walked over to a large stone bench and sat down. The man watched the guard closely and sat at the far end of the bench, but not close enough to touch me. The guard kept his distance.

“I believe an introduction is in order.”

“Yes. Of course, my Lady. My name is Daniel Norland.”

“What brings you to the castle today?” I felt oddly in control, but knew the programming was still in place. I watched as my hand smoothed a portion of my dress. It was such a feminine thing to do. Was that me that did that?

“First, my Lady, I want to assure you I mean you no harm.”

I felt confidence in this man. He was trustworthy. “I believe that.”

I watched as he glanced at the guard then focused on me again. “I’m here to rescue you.” His voice was barely above a whisper.

“Rescue me?” My control momentarily faltered. “The only thing I need rescuing from is this absurd notion that I have to marry the man that kills the black dragon.” I shook my head confused as my control returned.

“Future Global.”

The words resonated in my head. “What did you say?”

“Future Global has enslaved you. I’m going to rescue you.”

What was he saying? He knew I was Michael? “I…” I fought for control. “I’m a robot.” I shook my head and these dastardly female hormones started me crying. The guard noticed and took some steps towards us, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword. I put my hand up to keep him away. “It’s all right. I’m fine.” The guard nodded and stepped back. Daniel looked a little confused but then it was gone.

He whispered softly again. “You’re not a robot. You’re a real person controlled by artificial intelligence through nanobots injected into your brain.”

Not a robot? Of course that makes sense now. It’s how I feel everything. But that meant I was in the body of a young woman. A real young woman. “I’m confused.”

“Listen carefully. I’m able to free you from the control programs but I can’t do this until I’m ready. Releasing control of the nanobots and programming now could harm you. You must be Princess Grace Westhold. You’ll feel yourself gaining more and more control as I’m near you. However, if you deviate too far from your programming it will bring attention to you. Do you understand?”

I nodded. I didn’t understand what this man was about, or if perhaps I was putting myself in danger, but I felt I could trust him. I raised my voice slightly. “My father says that whoever kills the black dragon will be the man I marry, however, if I kill the black dragon he would let me choose my husband. Would you train me?”

Again, he looked confused and then realized I was granting him a chance to spend time with me. “It would be an honor, my Lady.”

“Then meet me in the forest behind the castle this evening when the sun is low. Bring weapons for me to train with.”

He stood, knelt, and kissed my hand again. “Until then, my Lady.”

I watched him go. My emotions were running wild. I was afraid for myself but that brief conversation gave me hope. As he exited the castle square I felt the programming grow stronger again but still not as strong as it had been.

I lingered a while pondering my fate. Somehow I’d been put into this body. When I recall my dreams from last night I have a hard time believing that this was an accident. The sting of the scorpion maybe drugged me. The men in white… Perhaps they took me somewhere and did this to me. So does this mean someone else is in my body? Or perhaps my body is dead. Of what value would it be to swap someone into my body?

It finally dawned on me. I was a US senator and potentially the next US president. What if these nanobots were used to control my body like they’re controlling me now? Could they replace me? I laughed at myself for these crazy thoughts then looked down upon my new body. I’d been sitting like a woman and said earlier I loved dresses and being pretty. Maybe I wasn’t too far from the truth after all. Maybe there was a way back. I looked at my slender and delicate hand and touched my lips with my fingers. I’d never even once thought about what it would be like to be a woman and I’m certainly enjoying myself. What if I never wanted to go back to whom I was, but is that just crazy talk?

***

Malcom paced back and forth as he watched the monitors. He didn’t like the fact that Mr. Enpo continued to hover over his shoulder and kept extending his stay. “Nancy, bring up the status of our new Michael Stevens.”

The monitors flashed and statistical information scrolled across the screen. “Everything is showing green. Full control is established and even the proclivities have been removed. In four days he’ll exit and we’ll send him home. Our operations center is ready for real-life transition for twenty-four hour monitoring.”

“Perfect.”

“Sir, we’ve noted some peculiar changes in the Fantasyworld storyline.”

“What’s happening there?”

“Our new Princess Grace Westhold is pushing the boundaries of her programming. Apparently she has it in her head to try to kill the black dragon herself, even recruiting suitors to help train her.”

Malcom scratched his chin. “This isn’t unusual. I’m sure Michael Stevens is finding he can’t go around the programming and is adapting. He’s trying to make the story more palatable to him, like he has more control than he really does.”

“Should we correct the course of the story and reinforce the programming?”

“No. At least not yet. Grace is still rebellious against the King’s proclamation. This could prove to be very useful from a guest perspective. Save the princess from a fate she doesn’t want and win her heart. It’s a little more realistic and could offer some unique plot twists. I think we’re fine but we’ll revisit it if it gets too far out of line.”

***

My control continued to slip the longer I was away from Daniel. This was somewhat fine with me as my clarity and memory were improved and I could use my ‘autopilot’ to allow myself to think. If Daniel was working for Future Global did he really know about my situation? Did he really want to rescue me, Michael Stevens, or Grace Westhold? When I considered the options I would have thought he would tell me he knew I was Michael. This leaves me with one consideration; that Daniel was likely smitten with this body and with Grace. I need to be careful not to disclose too much. It was highly possibly that if he knew the truth he might not want to rescue me at all and I’d be trapped here as a slave the rest of my life.

What would a rescue look like? If Daniel was smitten with this body and not actually trying to rescue Michael then I doubt he would stop in the middle of a rescue so that I could get back to my body and my life. Putting myself in his shoes, he’s likely hoping to steal me as he escapes Future Global. The frightening part of all of this is that I recognize I’m losing myself the longer I’m exposed to the programming and this body. Logically, I know I’m a man, but my deep desire was to now be pretty and wear dresses. The programming was eating away at who I was. It was like biofeedback. Every time I tried to exert myself, who I really was, the programming told me that’s not who I am. To seize control I needed to succumb. To have any ‘life’ I needed to give up my old self. Did all the actors here go through this? Are they forever altered with no hope for recovery? If I got back to my own body would I find myself wanting to wear dresses? They were so beautiful. I loved them…

I found myself back in my rooms. I’d been so focused on my thoughts that I couldn’t remember how I got here. Alicia and Lily had set out some food for lunch and were waiting for me. They curtsied as I entered and I worked in earnest to regain my control. “Please, both of you, I don’t need to be curtsied to, at least not in the privacy of my own rooms.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“Come. Sit down and have lunch with me.” They looked startled at the thought. “It’s all right.” I took their hands and led them to the table. “Lily, if you had your choice, would you still serve me?”

“What do you mean by choice, Princess?”

“If you could choose to be anything, do anything, would you still choose to be with me?”

“That’s silly, Princess. I don’t have a choice.”

I hated the thought that Alicia and Lily were slaves to their programming. To think that my control program had me suggest they needed to pleasure me this morning and that their programming forced them into it made me ill. “This morning I suggested we take a bath together. Did you do that because you wanted to or because I asked?”

Lily looked confused. Alicia responded. “We adore you, Princess. Of course we want to be with you. Why are you asking these questions? Do you not want us around anymore? Have we done something wrong?”

“No. You haven’t done anything wrong. My father told me I have to marry the man that brings him the head of the black dragon. I feel I’ve no choice in the matter and resent that I have no control over my life. I don’t want either of you to feel the same way about me. I don’t want you to satisfy my urges because I ask you to. I guess I need to know you want to spend time with me rather than feeling that you’re obliged to.”

Lily got up and knelt at my feet. “Don’t send us away, Princess. We love you. You keep us safe and care for us. If I may be so bold..?”

She looked at me seeking permission but for what I had no idea. I nodded. Lily stood, leaned over me and kissed me with such love and passion that it left me breathless. Warmth spread throughout my body like a fire. I looked over to Alicia. “What about you, Alicia?”

She smiled and walked over to me, pressed her lips against mine and slipped her tongue past my lips. Her fingers lingered in my hair as she pulled back. “I always want to be with you and Lily.”

I stood and pulled them both into my arms. I couldn’t be positive that their programming made them this way, but it made me feel better knowing they wanted to care for me of their own volition. The room darkened as a shadow passed by the glass balcony doors. I stepped over and opened the doors wide and stared in amazement at the sight of a huge black dragon flying overhead. I watched as it banked and blew fire over the crops outside the castle walls.

Alicia and Lily pulled me back inside and closed the doors. “It’s larger than I thought it would be.”

“Please don’t try to kill the dragon yourself, Princess.”

“If I’m to protect you both and keep you with me, then I must find a way. My father won’t change his mind. It’s getting late and I’m to meet a man who promised to train me.”

Alicia and Lily looked at me with wide eyes. Lily grabbed my hand and lifted her chin. “It’s an honor knowing you want to take care of us as we want to take care of you. We don’t want you hurt, but if you’re sure you’re going to do this how can we help you?”

“Work on the ball gown. If it helps to move someone on my behalf to kill the dragon for me, it might also be enough to let them at least let me keep you both with me as well.”

***

It took a little maneuvering but I lost my guard and slipped beyond the castle walls and into the forest. Daniel was there and I felt compelled to stand and watch his fit and handsome body. Minute by minute I could feel myself losing the battle against the programming. I felt like Princess Grace and was excited to be in this man’s presence.

Daniel spotted me and looked around for guards. He came to me and his hand touched my cheek. I took a step back as my control program ebbed away slightly. He leaned in close again and I could feel his warm breath on my neck. I practically swooned until he started whispering.

“Grace, there are cameras everywhere and even now they could be watching us. We must look like we’re following the story line. In two days I think I’ll be ready to help us escape. That is if you want to escape with me.”

I whispered back to him. “I’m confused but I know deep down I want to leave with you.”

“Don’t ever deceive me, Grace.” He said it with an edge to his voice that gave me pause. “Now slap me and tell me that I’ve crossed the line.”

I actually smiled at that. Even though I was drawn to him like a magnet he was being rather assumptive with me. I stepped back and slapped him across the face. “You overstep your bounds, sir. If you’ll not behave yourself and be honorable, training me as I ask, then I’ll find another suitor more worthy.”

I hit him hard enough that he didn’t have to fake the sting or the hand that automatically raised to his face. “I’m sorry, my Lady. I presumed much. Give me a chance to redeem myself. I brought you a small sword with which we can practice.”

***

Nancy leaned over a monitor and watched the young Princess Grace practice sword fighting with another actor. Michael Stevens was truly getting into character. She reviewed his brain map and saw how the female portions of his brain, those that made him think and respond as a female were already over ninety percent while the average adoption of his programming was just over forty percent for the rest of his brain. She’d never seen a male to female transference before and made note to let Malcom know that there’s little chance they could ever restore Michael should the need arise.

***

The sword training turned out to be quite the obvious act of futility and downright painful. I realized that my strength was far less than it ever was before and the activity, especially in a heavy gown, left me breathless and sticky. It was dark when I arrived back at my room and Alicia and Lily had left dinner out for me. A note let me know to ring for them when I returned as they were working on the gown for tomorrow night’s ball. As much as I wanted a repeat of this morning, having a little time to myself was lovely. Funny how I’d never thought of time alone being lovely before.

I struggled a little getting out of the first few layers of dress and realized why it was so important to have ladies in waiting to help with such a challenge. I found it even harder to get out of the corset which was tied up from behind. I pictured myself as an insane person trying to get out of a straitjacket. Grateful for a more flexible body I slowly inched my way out of the rest of my clothing and slipped on a robe. By this time I was hungry and tired.

After finishing my meal I headed to the wardrobe to find something to sleep in. I found several nightgowns and surprised myself by choosing the most daring and beautiful one of them all. I climbed into the oversized bed and tried to remember who I really was. My memories were becoming hazy and I felt myself slipping more and more into being Grace. I’d begun noticing how smells and tastes would trigger a memory or an emotion. That wasn’t something that I recalled ever happening as a man.

As I lay in bed my hands roamed across my new body. My breasts were firm and full and the slightest touch sent waves of pleasure through my body. I remembered the bath from this morning and I moaned as my hand and fingers mimicked the caresses of Alicia and Lily. My mind drifted to fantasizing about Daniel and his warm breath on my neck. I could imagine feeling his strong muscles and feeling helpless in his arms. With Alicia and Lily there was a sense of warmth and love, but the thought of yielding to someone stronger was irresistible. My finger slid easily inside my wet folds as I continued to picture myself being taken by Daniel. Minutes later I muffled my scream as an earth shattering orgasm overtook me.

I lay there basking in the afterglow and try as I might I couldn’t imagine being a man any longer. In my mind I saw a series of walls around my true identity. That wall which surrounded my gender had just completely collapsed.

***

I felt the bed move and a body slide in on either side of me. “We’re here to warm you up, Princess.” I smiled as I kissed Alicia and Lily each in turn. “You didn’t ring us last night.”

“I was so tired after the training and I didn’t want to bother either of you. You deserved your rest. Maybe I should give up on the idea of killing the dragon and simply run away with you both.”

Alicia moved some dark strands of hair from my eyes. “It could be years until someone kills the dragon. In the meantime we get to enjoy all the benefits of castle life. Good food, wonderful clothes, soft beds, and large baths. Besides, there are benefits to being a princess.”

“Like what?”

“You get two ladies in waiting willing to meet your every desire.” She brushed her lips just below my ear and licked my earlobe.

“Mmmm. There is that. We could always wait until someone does kill the dragon before running away.”

A knock sounded at the door to my room and Lily and Alicia ducked under the covers. My father strode in and gave me an exasperated look. “I understand you were training with a sword yesterday. What’s got into you?”

I felt fingers run along the inside of my thighs making it hard to focus. “I wanted to learn how to defend myself, father. If I turned out to be good with a sword I thought I could kill the dragon myself.”

“That’s ridiculous. We have guards to protect you and I hope you learned just how hard it is to swing a sword. A dragon has thick scales, tough as steel. You can’t just walk up to it and slice its head off like a knife cuts into cheese.”

“I’m sorry, father.”

“You’ll be even sorrier to know you’re late greeting the guests in the square. Do I need to ring your ladies in waiting to get you ready?”

“I’ll ring them, father. I’ll be ready right away.”

“You better be. If you continue these antics, I’ll be forced to punish you. I’ll not have this conversation with you again.”

“Yes, father.”

I watched him storm out and sighed in relief knowing that the heavy, thick blankets probably hid Alicia and Lily. “You two are in so much trouble…” I pulled the blankets over my head and tackled Lily starting a wrestling match between the three of us until we all fell out of the bed in a heap of bodies and blankets. I kissed them both. “I love you both, but if I don’t get ready you’ll probably not have a princess to warm up anymore.”

“It’s our fault, Princess. We’re sorry.” They scampered off to get my food and dress but I grabbed them and hugged them tight. “Maybe killing the dragon myself is foolish, but if I’m going to take care of you both I need to start acting more like a princess. It’s my fault for sleeping in. Let’s see how fast I can get ready.”

***

Malcom looked contemplatively at Nancy. “Michael’s brain is now essentially fully female. I like how you did the story line course correction with the King and got Michael to fall back into princess mode. If his brain is female now he’ll be less likely to push the boundaries of the programming and we can get back to normal. While it was an interesting sideline for the story I’m happy we’re back on track. How’s our Michael-bot doing?”

“He’s perfect and ready to go home at any time. He and Charlotte are scheduled to reach the mine today then head back to Modesto by tomorrow evening.”

“Keep me posted. Hopefully all this week’s glitches are gone and done with.”

***

Alicia and Lily got me ready in record time and I was soon greeting the new guests in the castle square. I noted that Daniel wasn’t there today and wondered if anything happened to him. I was becoming less concerned about rescue now anyways and caught myself questioning why I needed to be rescued at all. My memories of my life before were slowly eroding and it took great effort and concentration to continue to try to remember them.

After the greeting time I meandered into the garden and took time to smell the flowers. I was startled when someone addressed me.

“Thank you for meeting me, Princess.”

I turned and faced a pretty guest. She was the one that slipped me the note the day before. Recalling yesterday and Daniel jolted me back into a level of awareness and helped me refocus on the situation I was in and to fight the programming. I know I needed to be Princess Grace which would be easy. My programming was still guiding me and oddly bringing me a level of comfort. I’m slightly rebellious, attracted to women and men, love pretty things, a princess, and live in a medieval world filled with magic and dragons. Yes… The programming was still there. “I live in a harsh world where my choices are limited. Sometimes the best way to feel in control of my own life is to indulge in the things that people don’t want me to do.”

She smiled and ran her fingers along the front of my dress. “You’re beautiful.”

I turned away from her and took a few steps to create some deliberate space. The woman was very pretty. She must have been around thirty-five year’s old, brunette, brown eyes, and had a lean but curvy figure hidden under her dress. I turned back. “What would you have of me?”

“I thought that was rather obvious.”

“You could always slay the black dragon and have me anytime you wanted.”

“Why get myself all dirty with dragon ichor when there’s no need?”

“You assume much.” I admit she was attractive and I was aroused. I knew this was the programming and I tried to fight against it. However the more I fought the more I felt the programming crawling at my sensibilities and there was no denying my sexual experiences in this body were acting like a highly addictive drug. I wanted to experience that again, but perhaps that was me that wanted that. The programming made me want her but my body wanted her as well, yet I wasn’t a guest plaything. I was grateful I wasn’t put into a brothel where my only drive was sex. I turned away, both disappointed in myself and thankful I still had a little control.

“I don’t think so, Princess.” The woman grabbed my arm and pushed my back against the castle wall. She stroked my face with her hand and kissed me long and hard. I was incredibly turned on and yet offended at the same time. She pulled back for a moment leaving me breathless. She triumphantly stood watching me until the moment she was yanked backwards and two guards had swords to her throat. “This is ridiculous! Let me go! I paid good money for this vacation and I will have her!” She continued to scream about having paid for me and demanding it.

Suddenly the guards and I froze completely. I could see and hear, but I couldn’t speak nor move a muscle. A door in the side of the castle opened and several people wearing Future Global insignias approached the woman. “Ma’am, you need to come with us.”

“I will not. Give her to me and I won’t sue the lot of you!”

“You’re fully aware of the rules which you signed and agreed to. By falling out of character you risk impacting the story lines and the actors, ruining the environment for everyone. You have three options. Accept the fate of the situation, transfer to another of our worlds to start fresh, or be sent home incurring penalties for violating the agreements you signed.”

“I paid to come to this world so that I could have her. I’ll take my chances and continue here.”

“Very well.” I watched as the men left and I felt slightly nauseous. What had transpired in the past few minutes suddenly became vague. I found I could move again but my control was gone. I was on full autopilot.

“Was this woman hurting you, Princess?”

“Your dagger.” The guard looked at me strangely so I added with a little grit to my tone, “Give me your dagger.”

“Yes, Princess.” I felt the heavy dagger in my hand and realized this didn’t bode well for the lady.

“Lower your weapons and back away.” The guards did as I told them but stood close by in case something went wrong. I brought the dagger to the woman’s throat. She winced and sucked in a breath but looked pleadingly into my eyes. I slipped the tip of the knife under the top button of her dress and flicked it sending the top button flying. Her cleavage became much more visible. The woman’s breath caught in her throat and I tossed the dagger to the side. Inside I breathed a sigh of relief. I leaned in close slipping my arms around her neck and burying my face in her hair. My lips gently brushed her neck. It was incredibly sensual and I could feel her respond. I whispered into her ear, letting my breath caress her neck as I did so. “If you want me, you must be gentle. Let me come to you.”

She moaned softly, the guards completely forgotten. I felt my programming shift. It felt dark and ominous. With no ability to control myself I grabbed the woman’s neck roughly and wrenched with all my strength. I heard a crack and the woman’s eyes rolled up into her head as she slipped to the ground. I’d killed her. No! It wasn’t me! I had no control. But she’s dead. In my anger and remorse my body convulsed and I wailed. I fell to my knees and stared at my hands. Then once again I couldn’t move or speak. The door opened and the men returned. One stopped and looked at me.

“Such a pretty thing. Shame about the glitch. I thought you’d work it out with our guest.” I watched as they dragged the woman away. I felt my programming shift again and the dark, ominous code was gone. Nausea washed over me again but not all of the woman’s death left my memory. When I could move again the guards carefully lifted me off the ground.

“We saw the dragon swoop down and barely miss you, Princess. Are you all right?”

I had control again and perhaps it was the shock of it all, but my memories were clearer. Somehow I remembered Future Global and knew they would be reviewing this scene. I had to play along. “I’m fine. I hope someone kills that thing soon. Please take me to my room.”

***

“We had a guest incident.” Nancy looked calm as she reported to Malcom.

“Fantastic. This is turning out to be a wonderful week. Show me.”

“Computer. Replay Fantasyworld at 12:14pm to 12:20pm today, castle garden.”

The monitors flashed and Malcom watched the proceedings. “Damn it! That guest violated the agreement and got what was coming to her, but who was the idiot that had Grace kill her? Shocks like this to someone new like Michael Stevens can hinder the control mechanisms. They should have had a guard kill her. Morons!”

“We just can’t seem to get good help anymore, Malcom. We dug into the activities of the technician that spoke to Grace while she was frozen. Apparently he has been using his program control permissions to sneak into the bedrooms of our female actors, use them, and erase their memory of it after. Both technicians have been disposed of.”

Malcom cursed. “I want activity checks of all of our employees and I want it on my desk in four hours.” Nancy rolled her eyes at the unreasonable nature of the request. “Don’t give me that look, Nancy. Just get it done. What’s Grace’s status?”

“She was sixty percent averaged across her brain into fully absorbing her programming. She’s now slipped to thirty even though the core parts of the brain, the female ones, are still at one hundred percent. We can get the average back to fifty by encouraging her ladies in waiting to give her another bath. Apparently there’s nothing like good earth-shattering sex to conform a mind.”

Malcom shook his head. “Do it.”

***

I lay on the plush bed in my room and cried. The last time I cried this hard was when my wife had died. I was never highly emotional, but for the moment my body was responding to my innermost thoughts and these female hormones coursing through my body were playing havoc with me. I still remembered killing the woman. I felt so helpless; like a caged animal that had no control over its life.

I’d been back at my room for at least an hour; face down, the puffy layers of dress flowing over me when I heard Lily and Alicia rush in all concerned for me. I still had control but I couldn’t tell them what really happened. They were just like me. Human robots. I wish I knew if they truly did care for me.

“We heard all about the dragon!”

They gently rolled me over and checked me thoroughly before smothering me in hugs and kisses. “I’m all right. I was just frightened.”

Alicia looked concerned. “I’m so glad you decided to give up the idea of trying to kill that beast.”

“Haven’t you ever wanted some control over your life? To aspire to be something better?”

Lily stroked my hair. “But we have you. We could be anyone’s ladies in waiting, but we’re fortunate to have you all to ourselves. You love us and are kind to us. Why would we ever want something different?”

Alicia examined my dress and saw the dirt and grass stains on it. “Oh my… We need to get you cleaned up. You have a dinner to attend before the ball. Let’s get you in the bath and into your dinner dress.”

“And we think you’ll be pleased with the alterations we made to your ball gown.” Lily beamed. “Scandalous!” She giggled.

***

The bath was what turned out to be scandalous. As a man I’d never been able to have more than a couple orgasms in a twenty-four hour period and that was when I was younger. This second bath lasted well over an hour and I just let Alicia and Lily take care of every ounce of tension I had. If I were one to count I had six orgasms from the bath yesterday, the one I gave myself last night, and I just added another three. This body was truly amazing and I felt myself sliding further and further under its charms. Would it be so bad to be Grace the rest of my life? What would it be like to not have to worry about elections and politics, or to have every need met?

As before I found I had control as long as I stayed within the confines of the programming but those confines had begun to feel less defined since the bath. Throughout dinner I caught myself several times simply enjoying who I was. Everyone deferred to me and called me beautiful. Even their expectations of me seemed to be less than when I was a man. I began to understand how relationships were so important to women. The focus seemed to be less on what I did, but more on who I was. I liked that.

I also discovered that the programming was still having its way with me, turning me into the princess more and more. The second bath and time with Lily and Alicia caused me to question if I ever wanted to return to being Michael. And when I looked at the king during dinner I looked at him as my father. I had to concentrate to remind myself otherwise but still felt myself perturbed with him for this ongoing charade of my hand in marriage. I even reassured myself that I had Lily and Alicia and was more than pleased having them in my life. I noted that my mind continued to drift to thoughts of Daniel several times and once during dinner I found myself daydreaming about being in his arms. These thoughts would have shaken me earlier, but I now found them comforting.

Back in my room Alicia and Lily helped me out of my dinner dress then into the newly altered ball gown. They’d done an excellent job of removing layers from a beautiful white dress and the new sleek shape hugged my curves with the desired effect I was hoping for. I then helped Lily and Alicia get into their gowns and promised to sneak away with them when I got a chance.

“You’re going to set a new fashion trend, Princess.”

I twirled for them and watched the gown swirl and flow around me. This is what I loved. I loved being pretty and feeling the soft caress of silk against my skin. This thought felt right even though I realized I was losing more and more of myself. I had to stop analyzing myself. It was easier not to fight against it. I grabbed Lily and we danced around my bedroom together, my thoughts and analysis forgotten.

“I want you both by my side as I enter the ballroom.”

“I’ve never been to a ball before.”

“If I can do it, Alicia, so can you. Look at you both. You’re so beautiful. You’ll be the hit of the ball, but just remember that at the end of the night you have to come back here with me. No running off with other men or women.”

“Would you be jealous, Princess?”

I kissed Lily and Alicia. “I would be very jealous to see either of you with someone else.”

“We love being with you, Princess. It’s an easy promise to make.”

“Then let’s go. We’ll be fashionably late.”

When we walked into the ballroom, the music stopped and I was announced. There were noticeable gasps about my attire, but the dress caught every eye in the room, including my father who wiggled his finger at me to join him. I sighed. “Have fun ladies.”

I stepped up onto the dais where my father was sitting and he pointed to the seat next to him. He leaned over and whispered to me. “You always try to stand out, but this? The entire room is removing your clothing with their eyes.”

“You told me I needed to remember my place here. I took your advice. I believe my outfit will have nearly everyone in here begging to kill the dragon to get what’s underneath the fabric of this dress. That’s my goal, father. I’m not doing this to shame you. We have a problem and I’m doing my part to help the kingdom. Besides, have you ever worn half your body weight in layered silk? This is far more comfortable and I’ll be able to dance longer as well.”

He kissed my cheek. “You’ll make a fine Queen one day. Just protect your vanity tonight.”

“My vanity is for sale, father. It does me no good to give it away for free.”

“Like you do with your ladies in waiting?”

I blushed furiously. “Father! That’s entirely different.” I lowered my voice. “I’m intact. No man has been with me.” It was me speaking these things and it stunned me that I was speaking about my virginity.

He chuckled and hugged me. “Be careful tonight.”

I stood and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m always careful, father.”

I turned and looked across the throngs of people until I spotted him. Daniel was here and I was drawn to him. I walked purposefully across the floor. The sea of people parted and reformed behind me like a ship’s wake. Several tried to stop me and ask for a dance, but I couldn’t stop until I was standing behind Daniel.

“Pardon me, kind sir.”

Daniel turned and looked into my eyes, and then I felt him look me up and down. His look alone made my body tingle. “Would you care to dance, my lady?” He extended his hand and several people sighed as I took it. His touch unlocked something within me and my programming was pushed to the side. I found new clarity once again but I realized in my clarity I wasn’t the same person I used to be anymore. I knew I used to be a man and my name was Michael, but I felt that as if it was a distant memory. Did I really want Daniel to rescue me?

I felt his hand on my waist as we faced each other and we began dancing around the ballroom floor. After a minute of silence between us I started to speak to him as we danced. “Why is it when you’re near me I feel different?”

“When I touch you I can alter your control programming.”

“Is that why I feel drawn to you? That you’ve made me attracted to you? Is that why when you’re not near me I struggle remembering this life’s not really mine?”

“I’ve not altered your programming in any way to like me. That would be wrong.” I knew he was lying. “As to the other question, the answer is partially. You realize you’re a prisoner? A slave?”

I frowned and gasped when I remembered the woman I killed today. The programming had begun erasing it from my memory, but now it was back. ”They… Future Global made me kill someone today.” I was shaking.

“You need some fresh air, my Lady.”

I was finding it hard to breathe as he led me to an open veranda. He held me close and I wanted his protection more than anything. “You didn’t always live here. Do you remember anything of the world before you arrived?”

I looked into his eyes and thought hard. I had a life and a home. I was a senator… But none of that would get me rescued. Daniel wanted Grace. I could see it in his eyes. I could remain trapped here forever, or I could play along and let him help me escape. However, even if I were to get away from the control programs and Future Global, I couldn’t leave Lily, Alicia, Charlotte, and the others to be slaves. I’d need to come back and free them. I wondered if the nanobots could be used to give me the skills I needed to rescue everyone.

“It’s hard to explain. When you reduce the controls I know somehow this isn’t my real life because I now have the ability to choose my own way. Could it be that my programming has changed me? I don’t recall my name before and doubt I’d ever be that person again. I’m content being Grace Westhold. Does that make sense?”

I watched as he blinked a few times and a chill went through my body. I began to fear this place. I pushed away from him. I wanted to be free of the program within my mind. I needed to never lose control again. I looked around and everything felt slightly foreign. “What did you do to me?”

“I’m sorry, Grace. There are things happening and I need to speed up the timeline of your rescue. I’m altering your programming faster than I should, but I need your help save us both.”

“I don’t understand. Can’t you just release me from the control program so I can do what I want? They had me kill a woman! It was me but it wasn’t me.” I was frantic and knew that my voice was getting louder.

“Lower your voice, Grace. I’ve shut down their ability to listen to us but we still need to whisper.” I regained some of my sensibilities and nodded. “I’m going to help you. Tomorrow at noon I’ll completely remove your programming and you’ll be completely and fully in control of yourself. Once I do this, Future Global will not be able to track you and will immediately start looking for you. I need you to meet me in the forest where we met yesterday. We’ll then escape this place.”

“We need to stop them. They can’t do this anymore. They need to stop controlling people. If you have this ability to remove my programming, can you also add something?”

“What are you thinking?

“I’m young and fit. Can you program me to be able to fight? Maybe you can give me knowledge of how Future Global controls people so that if anything happens to you, I can stop them.”

“You’re brilliant, Grace!” I felt a strong desire to kiss him and knew this must be some programming he’d done to me. To truly be free, I could never be with Daniel, the one person that had the ability to control me.

“Daniel… I’m frightened. I’m scared to leave this place and leave those that I care about. I’m scared that I’ll always have someone controlling me and keeping me a slave. Tomorrow, when you release me from the programming, can you make it so no one ever controls me again?”

I saw a flicker of frustration. I had to get him to promise me this. I fell into his arms and lifted my lips to his. The programming made this easy, but self-preservation made it a necessity. I watched as his frustration changed to joy. I knew it worked. He had to believe I’d already fallen for him and he didn’t need to worry I’d leave him.

“I promise, Grace. No one will ever control you that way again. I need to go now and think about what you said. I have to gather the right information to give to you before we destroy the control code. I’ll meet you tomorrow in the forest at noon.”

I watched him go then looked back into the ballroom to find Lily and Alicia. I knew Daniel would refuse to take them and that tore at my heart. They were already a part of me and I grieved for them. To save them I needed to first save myself.

***

That night I invited Alicia and Lily to my bed. Not for sex, but to have them close. I enjoyed being with them and knowing that they cared about me. In a small way I think I understood Daniel in wanting me to fall for him. I know Lily and Alicia had lives before and perhaps they struggled remembering who they were and fought against their programming. Maybe they hated being a slave and taking care of me. I had to accept the fact that if I could eventually free them that they both may choose to go their own way.

When I woke I knew something had continued to change in me overnight. My desire to fight the programming had lessened dramatically. My body felt wonderful and seeing Lily and Alicia stirring in my bed made me smile. For the first time I truly hesitated to meet Daniel. It was when Lily woke and kissed me and wrapped her arms around me contentedly that I realized the enormity of my thoughts. Not meeting Daniel was a death sentence to me, Lily, Alicia, and Charlotte. Every actor here was a slave that had likely been ripped from society and their loved ones. And then there was the fact that my old body was probably being used for some nefarious purpose. No, I had to meet Daniel.

My programming still held a grip on me enough to make sure I let Alicia and Lily bring my breakfast and dress me for the day. I had no choice but to be the princess. We had awakened late as we remained at the ball late into the early morning and it was almost time for me to meet Daniel. I felt tears on my cheeks as I said my goodbyes to Alicia and Lily knowing that I might never see them again. It was hard not to tell them what was happening.

I headed to the castle gardens and from there exited a gate and walked into the forest, losing my guard as I’d done before. What would happen when I was completely free? Would I suddenly become me again? Would I detest this body and the beautiful things I wore I now love so much?

I stepped out from behind a tree and spotted Daniel pacing back and forth. My heart leapt and I wanted so badly to be in his arms. I pushed hard against the thoughts. I could never give in to the feelings knowing that he had the ability to make me fall for him. Daniel was obsessive. I even found myself scared of being back in the real world but I reminded myself of the consequences. I still needed to play my part so I ran up to him and threw myself into his arms. “Daniel!” I allowed myself to kiss him.

He was obviously happy at my response to him. “Grace, my beautiful Grace. Are you ready?”

I kept my arms around him and nodded; however the longer I stood near him the more I wanted to give myself to him. I felt a little nausea several times, but after each time I was filled with new information. He’d shared with me the island maps and locations of the control rooms. He gave me knowledge of the control programming. Not enough to program or alter programs, but enough to understand the basics of how it worked.

Daniel held me at arm’s length and looked me in the eyes. I could tell he was conflicted. “I’ve uploaded to your brain information about the island complex, programming control, and some hand-to-hand, knife, and gun fighting skills. Once I disable your nanobots, no one can ever control you again unless you were injected with a new set of nanobots. Are you sure you want to leave here with me?”

I was afraid to say the words as saying them might solidify them into my psyche, but I had no choice. “I… I love you, Daniel. I have to be with you.” I leaned forward and kissed him again, closing my eyes against the loss of myself. I then felt the nanobots deactivate like a cold shiver. I was free of the programming and full clarity was restored to me.

I had a hard time grasping what I now was. I remembered my past. I remembered I had been a man, Michael Stevens, Senator and future presidential hopeful. I looked down at myself and first saw the cleavage my breasts made and further, the fluffy silky lavender gown I was wearing. The programming had changed me dramatically. I was altered irrevocably. I was completely a woman and loved everything about it. I had snippets of information about the transference, but I had no desire to return to my old body or life. I knew enough that without the nanobots active I couldn’t be transferred and without the program altering my brain and psyche upon becoming Michael again, I’d be a woman stuck in my old aging male body the rest of my life. The chances I could get back to being the old me were infinitesimally small, even smaller if it was the fully restored me. Like it or not, I was stuck, and that didn’t bother me in the least.

I took a step back from Daniel and sat down on a log. “Grace. How are you feeling? We need to get out of here. Future Global will know our last location and track us from here. By now, I’m sure alerts are going off in the control room. They’ll know that either we’re dead or our code’s been wiped. Look at me, are you all right?”

I looked up at Daniel and realized I still had an attraction to him. He was good looking and that was all I gravitated towards. I knew deep down he was controlling and manipulative. I thought of Lily, Alicia, and Charlotte. I sighed sadly. “What’s the plan?”

He smiled as I extended my hand to be helped up. “About a mile from here is an access tunnel to an underground transportation shuttle. That will take us to the control center. From there we’ll need to take another shuttle to the shipyards. That’s where a ship will be leaving for Sri Lanka soon. We’ll sneak aboard then find our way back to the United States. I have passports for us both and a house in Virginia. We’ll be able to start our lives anew.”

I struggled to keep up with him as he dragged me along. “I need to find another outfit that offers better maneuverability.”

“We can get you some jeans and a blouse when we get to the control center.”

I actually paused and stopped, his hand almost dislocating my shoulder as he had kept going. “Jeans? You mean pants? Please no… Perhaps we can find a short skirt or something?” I really had changed.

“Let’s just get to the control center and see what we can find. Now hurry up!”

***

“Malcom! We’ve lost two actors.”

Malcom growled. “What else can go wrong? Who were they?”

He watched Nancy visibly wince. “Princess Grace Westhold and a male actor named Daniel Norland.”

“The Princess Grace that Michael Stevens was transferred into? Please tell me good news that she’s dead in some catastrophic accident?”

“Nancy, you might want to look at this.” An engineer called out from behind a monitor.

Nancy walked over ignoring Malcom’s penetrating stare. “Oh, crap!” She turned away from the monitor and from Malcom trying to compose herself.

“What’s going on, Nancy?”

“First, they’re not dead. We would have received a transmission from the nanobots before death finalized. It’s much worse than that.”

“Spit it out!”

“It appears that Daniel Norland is not a real actor. He was, but is no longer. We just uncovered evidence to suggest that Sean Kingswood might have transferred himself into Daniel Norland’s body.”

“The programmer that messed up the sequence numbers?”

“This makes some sense… Sean held a fixation on Grace ever since she was brought here. What if he’s attempting to escape with her?”

“Shut down the transportation shuttles. Pull all ships away from the docks, but have them all thoroughly searched. Lock down the airport. Nobody comes in or goes out. Now!”

***

We’d just stepped off the transportation shuttle in the central control hub when the shuttle’s power shut down. The good news was that we weren’t stuck in an underground tube. The bad news was that they were locking things down for a reason. That reason was likely Daniel and me. The transportation level that we were on had a lot of activity. People moved every which way in various outfits designed for the different worlds. I knew the layout as it was part of the map information Daniel had provided me.

He pushed me up against a wall and whispered in my ear. “We need to find a change of clothing before we move to the lower levels. I also need access to a central computer. Do you know where the clothing and costumes room is located?”

I nodded. “Down this hall, second door on the left. Aren’t you worried about cameras and guards?”

Daniel smiled. “I injected a bit of code into their security systems. Their cameras have been down for the last ten minutes. There are fewer guards than you might think. That’s the beauty of controlling everyone with nanobots. Fewer problems. Find your way to the clothing room; get changes of clothes for both of us. I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”

I feigned fear and wrapped my arms around him. I still needed him to get away. “Hurry back to me, Daniel.” He smiled and ran down the hall.

I followed a ways behind and turned into the clothing room. I paused when I entered as there were a number of people in Future Global uniforms running around, dressing actors, and gathering clothing for guests. I snuck in between some clothes racks and worked my way to the back of the room. There I found Future Global uniforms and Futureworld outfits. I fingered the sexy shiny dresses of Futureworld and wanted to wear them so badly, but I noticed a Future Global flight attendant’s uniform and decided that would be safer. I slipped off the layers of gown and found a short dark blue dress, black nylons, and low heeled pumps. The fit turned out to be good and I was happy to be wearing something that weighed so little and my feet wouldn’t catch on the hems.

Feeling a little safer, I pushed out of the rows of clothing. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and realized how sexy the short hem and plunging neckline made me look. I smiled and started to look for clothing for Daniel when I spotted a computer. I’d been in politics a lot of years and found the need to protect my investments. I’d set up accounts in the Cayman Islands. I wasn’t a bad person just that in the public eye hiding your wealth could be a good thing. I hadn’t stolen the money or extorted anyone for it; rather I had inherited a lot and did well with my investments. I could log in, create a subsidiary account, change the passwords, and transfer the money. If I was about to start a new life, what better way than with money I’d already earned. Why leave it in the hands of Future Global?

I forgot about finding clothes for Daniel and sat down at the computer. Sure enough it was connected and inside of five minutes I had transferred one hundred and seventeen million dollars into a new account. With the passwords changed I could update ownership of the accounts once I had my new identity squared away. I just logged off when a heavy hand grabbed my shoulder.

“What are you doing? You were supposed to find me a change of clothes.”

“I wanted to see if there were any notices about us. I couldn’t find anything. Sorry. There are Future Global uniforms right over here.” I got up and rushed over to the racks of clothes. I think one look at my skimpy dress helped blank his mind as he followed me like a lost puppy.

“Hold onto this bag.” He handed me a Future Global duffel bag. It was small but rather heavy. I peeked inside as he was trying to find the right sizes for himself. There were two passports, some electronic cash cards, a gun, and a metallic syringe. I wondered about the syringe. Did he think he was going to inject me again to make sure I wouldn’t leave him? I pushed the thought away for the moment and I flipped open my passport. Samantha Rawlings. I wondered why he had chosen that name. It even had a good picture of me. I smiled and slipped it into the top of my nylons under my dress. I wanted to keep it with me in case anything happened to Daniel.

Daniel finally got changed and we casually left the clothing room. “What now?”

“They’ve shut down all transportation and I was able to discover that they’re going ship to ship looking for us. One ship, the Emily Rose, is scheduled for departure in a few hours. In one hour all hell is going to break loose and they’ll pull the boats with the men searching for us back into port. That’s when we steal one of those boats, get to the Emily Rose, and leave this place.”

“When you say all hell’s going to break loose, what do you mean?”

“It means that I left a time-delayed system update ready to deploy in an hour. Once initiated, eighty percent of the actors will lose all of their programming. The last twenty percent, or roughly two thousand people, will be instructed to hunt down and kill Future Global employees and find their way to the control room to destroy everything. Once all targets and the control room have been eliminated they’ll kill themselves.”

He grabbed my arm to go but I pulled to a stop. “Wait! You’re going to have the actors kill themselves. Two thousand of them? And certainly not all the employees are bad people.” I couldn’t let him kill so many people. He was crazy.

“Listen to me! Roughly twenty percent of all actors are considered dark actors. Their programming centers on raping, stealing, and killing. If their programming is wiped out, what do you think they will continue to do? Hell, you can’t feel comfortable wearing pants. That was part of your programming. I’m doing the world a service and I can’t be concerned with a few employees that might not know what’s going on here.”

“How many employees are there?”

“Grace, we need to go.” He looked at me like he was on the verge of mental collapse.

“We’re dressed as Future Global employees. Won’t those same actors hunt us down?”

“Stop asking questions. They each have been given access to the photos in the employee database. We’re not in there. Besides, we’ll be on a ship by the time they reach the docks.”

He was practically frothing at the mouth. I had to survive this somehow, even if that meant I had to stay with this psychopath. “How will we get to the docks in time?”

“When the island was constructed there were special shuttle lines used to bring material from the docks. These were never tied into the main computer systems and operate manually. They still function. We just need to descend two floors.”

I needed to make sure he still knew I was on his side. The last thing I needed was for him to think I was against him. “You’re brilliant! One last question. How do we tell the world what they’ve been doing here?”

“You don’t know a tenth of what this company has been involved in.” I had a pretty good idea. I watched as he reached into his pocket and produced a data drive. “This drive has all the financial information, recordings of every deal over the past ten three years, contact names, and ties to more sinister organizations. This is my life. As long as I have it, they can’t kill me.” I noticed he didn’t say ‘our’ lives. “Let’s go!”

He grabbed my hand and we ran throughout the complex. We made it to the old shuttle level and stepped onto the manually controlled shuttle without incident.

I was just breathing a sigh of relief when I heard someone shout. “Freeze! Put your hands in the air, turn your back to me and slowly walk backwards.” I glanced over my shoulder and saw the guard had his gun drawn. “Keep your eyes forward! Now, stop right there.” I felt his hand grab my right wrist when I suddenly just reacted. I spun, dropped low, threw my left elbow back catching the guard in the stomach, twisted his arm behind his back and brought my knee up into his face. I stood there stunned as the man that had more than one hundred pounds on me fell over unconscious.

“How did I do that?”

“Remind me not to mess with you. That’s part of the programming I uploaded to you earlier. Take his gun and help me cuff him.”

I looked down at myself and laughed. “I have no place to hide a gun.”

Daniel looked at me with such intense lust-filled eyes I almost ran away. He pushed me up against a wall and kissed me. “God, you’re beautiful. I’m so glad you’re mine.” His look turned slightly sinister. “Don’t ever leave me.” He took the gun and put it into the bag.

We cuffed the guard and jumped back onto the shuttle. I sat back and contemplated my situation as Daniel started the shuttle moving forward. In less than an hour Lily, Alicia, and Charlotte would lose their control programs. What would that do to them? Would they be so brainwashed by their program that they would still think they are living their life in Fantasyworld and Westworld? I shuddered at the thought. My mind turned back to the syringe and Daniel’s last statement to me. He’s not stupid. I wonder if he questions my loyalty to him. I needed to get the data drive and somehow destroy the syringe. I looked at the bag which was resting by his feet. It would have to wait for now. I needed to get the data drive and me on board a ship before I could consider leaving Daniel.

I hadn’t even noticed as Daniel had turned and was staring at me. “You’re lost in thought, I see.”

“When you cleared my programming, some of my memories returned. Everything is far clearer now.”

“What are you remembering?” He seemed genuinely interested and since the shuttle was driving on its own we had time to talk.

“Fragments of memories from before here.”

He turned away from me then turned back with a suddenness that was frightening. He had a gun in his hand pointing it at me. “You’re lying to me!” His face was turning red. “I did all of this for us! I risked my life for you! And you repay me with lying. You can’t have memories. You’ve been here under the control of a program for a year. There are no memories left after six months. That means you’re lying to me!”

“Daniel, calm down. I’m Grace Westhold. I love you.” I tried to register shock in my eyes, but I realized I made a fatal mistake. He knew because he’d seen what the control programs did to people. I watched him hit himself in the head with the gun in his hand. He was a lunatic.

He raised the gun and pointed it at my head. “Who are you? You know what? It doesn’t matter.” He pulled the syringe from the bag. “I have the guns, and I have these nanobots. Once my actor unrest code is initiated I can safely inject you again and turn you into my beloved wife. You’ll dote on me like I deserve. You’ll have no thoughts of your own except for taking care of my every desire.” I thought about trying to fight him but if he also had the training I was given, then I’d lose for sure. He was far larger than me and Daniel had proven himself to think through every possibility. He never would have put himself at risk by giving me something he didn’t have more of. He stepped forward and slammed the flat of the gun across my temple. I slumped to the floor of the shuttle, darkness enveloping me.

***

Alarms were blaring through the control room and Malcom screamed at someone to turn them off. “What the hell is going on?”

“We just lost control of our actors.” Nancy was visibly shaken.

“Which actors?”

“All of them. Most have disappeared from our maps, but those we still see we can’t control. I’m getting reports of dozens of actors attacking Future Global employees. They’re leaving their worlds and appear to be hunting us.”

“Pull all guards back to the control room. I want a wall of guns blocking all entrances to this area. This data needs to be kept safe. Get my jet ready. We’re leaving now!”

***

I stirred as my pounding head brought me to wakefulness. I could smell the salty humid ocean air. I looked around at a small computer room. Daniel was sitting there. The syringe and gun rested on the desk beside him. He was intently focused on the monitor as he typed away. Had he used the syringe on me already? I looked at an open door to his right. If I could get to the syringe I could hopefully save myself from a life of servitude. I was shaking and nauseated as I lunged for the syringe. I grabbed it and threw it out the door before I lost my balance. I managed to duck just in time as his hand came around to hit me.

“I’m going to kill you, Bitch!”

I rolled away and pushed his chair forward with my shoulder pinning him against the desk. He fumbled for his gun. I stood behind him and slammed my elbow down onto the soft muscle between his shoulder and his neck. He screamed in pain and dropped the gun, his hand convulsing in spasms. I dove for the gun, turned, and fired in a single move. Daniel’s head snapped to the side, his brain matter spraying out over the desk and console.

I’d just killed someone. I dropped the gun, my hands shaking violently. I turned away and vomited. My head throbbed and I most likely had a slight concussion. I was feeling cold and started to shiver. I was going into shock and I needed to keep active. I’m a murderer and I’d seen too many times just how the justice system worked. I could easily find myself in jail for life, even if Daniel was a raving lunatic that just initiated the death of thousands of people. I picked up the gun and wiped it off as best I could. I took his hand, startled at the warmth it still had and wrapped his hand around the grip of the gun and used his finger to fire a bullet into the wall. I then moved his hand and gun towards his head and let go. The gun slipped from his hand and fell to the floor.

Hopefully that would make it appear like a suicide. I carefully reached into his pocket and found the data drive. I collected the duffle bag and left the dock control room. I found the syringe not too far away and placed it into the bag as well thinking it could be useful evidence. I looked around to get my bearings. Smaller boats were docked, but the larger ones had pulled away. Daniel knew what he was talking about and had planned this out well. I walked over to the edge of the dock, surprised at the calmness of everything. There was no one around. I tossed Daniel’s passport into the ocean, watched it float for a minute then sink below the surface. The Emily Rose was close. I could get there.

I looked back towards the center of the island and could only guess what might be happening there right now. I looked at the data drive in my hand. Even if I could get back to the central control room there was no guarantee I could stop anything. I couldn’t undo Daniel’s code and I’d likely be caught in the crossfire. Lily and Alicia would probably stay in the castle even with their control program eliminated. What was the most important thing to do?

I pondered this question for several minutes. The world needed to know and the people that built this place stopped. I hated myself for what I did next. I walked over to the harbor master’s office, found the authorization codes to release the ship from the docks, and contacted the Emily Rose. Twenty minutes later a tender from the ship came and picked me up on the dock.

“You must be Samantha Rawlings.”

I accepted the man’s hand and stepped onto the tender. “Yes. Thanks for picking me up.”

“That was a strange request. We don’t normally take people from the island, but if it lets us leave on time we’re happy to oblige.”

“Thank you. There was a death in my family and Future Global doesn’t offer bereavement leave. This was the only way I could get home. It will cost me my job, but family comes first.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You’re young and beautiful so it’s not like finding another job will be hard for you. It’ll take twenty-two hours for us to reach our destination port of Colombo, Sri Lanka. You have your passport?”

“I do. Thank you.”

“No problem, sweetheart. Sometimes I wonder about these mega corporations and their policies. Seems downright stupid not to let someone go home for a funeral.”

***

It took three days to get back to the United States. Luckily the cash cards that Daniel had in the duffle bag had enough cash to get me from Sri Lanka to India, from India to Germany, and finally from Germany to Dulles airport in Washington DC. When I arrived at Colombo I went to an Internet café and sent messages to news agencies and government officials letting them know what I knew had happened on the island. By the time I arrived in the United States there were already snippets of news trickling across the airwaves regarding a tragedy at Future Global’s resort island although very little detailed information was disclosed.

I was thoroughly exhausted by the trip but knew I needed to find a place to stay and get myself organized. My plans were to head into Washington DC to find Dustin Chambers, the campaign manager intern I’d worked with before. I knew he had an apartment here and I still had his number memorized. I found a phone and called.

“Dustin Chambers.”

“Dustin, this is Grace Westhold. I have quite a story to tell and it involves Michael Stevens. Could I meet you?”

“Grace Westhold? As in the robot actor in Fantasyworld?”

“Yes…” I sighed. Maybe this was going to be a mistake.

“I don’t know what’s going on but I just got a call that Michael Stevens was killed in some robot uprising. What the hell is going on and why do you want to talk to me?”

I gasped at the news. I knew I was Grace or Samantha as my passport stated now, but hearing my old body was killed sent chills down my spine. “Dustin, you NEED to hear what I have to say. I need your help.”

“Fine. Meet me in one hour at the Old Ebbitt Grill on 15th Street. This better be good.”

“I know where it is. I’ll be there.”

***

I entered the old Victorian styled restaurant and spotted Dustin right away. He had a booth about halfway inside and it took him no time at all to spot me and wave me to sit down. He stared at me long and hard and I started to doubt my decision. I remembered Dustin having a bit of a crush on Princess Grace.

“I can’t believe I’m sitting with Princess Grace of Fantasyworld. You’re even more gorgeous than the advertisements. Can I touch your hand?” I frowned and extended my hand. “You’re so real.”

“That’s because I am real.”

“Everyone knows how lifelike the robots are at Future Global.”

“The truth is Dustin, the actor robots were replaced with real humans controlled with nanobots injected into their brains. I’m completely human.”

Dustin shook his head. “I’m sure there is a lot more to unpack from that last set of statements, but I need to know why? Why are you contacting me? What happened out there?”

“Dustin, what I’m about to share with you can put your life and mine in significant danger. It involves Michael Stevens. Are you willing to hear me out?”

“What kind of danger?”

“The life and death kind and global conspiracies that I’m right in the middle of.”

“Well count me in! My life as an intern is over anyways.”

“Let me start with the hardest part. I’m Michael Stevens, but not the Michael Stevens you once knew.”

***

True to his word Dustin listened intently and asked a lot of questions. Most I didn’t have answers for.

“So let me see if I have this straight… You traveled to Westworld as Michael Stevens and started your adventure of a lifetime. On the second night you were drugges and transferred into the body of Grace so that they could send your old body back here as a person they could control. Over the next three days your control programming washed away all vestiges of being a man forcing you to become Princess Grace Westhold, but since you hadn’t been under the control programming for too long you retained most of your memories. In the meantime, Daniel Norland, programmer at Future Global, had an obsession with you and desired to leave with you as his lover or slave or slave lover. During your escape, you found out he was a crazed psychopath that triggered the deaths of thousands of people. You escaped him and made your way here to contact me.”

“I know how stupid this all sounds. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.” I started to get up to go when Dustin’s hand grabbed mine.

“I didn’t say it was stupid. Let me ask you again… Why contact me?”

“First, you were always skeptical of Future Global. Second, as a campaign manager intern, you are highly connected. You know the media and you know the key people in government to contact about this. Third… I’m Grace Westhold and I don’t know anyone. Fourth, and this may sound crazy, but I know you had a thing for Princess Grace and I was hoping that would buy me enough time with you to share and hopefully convince you of my story.”

“What evidence do you have to corroborate any of this?”

I reached into the duffle bag and pulled out the syringe. “This was the syringe Daniel Norland was going to use on me to turn me into his completely devoted wife and sex slave. I suspect it contains the nanobots that he would use to control me.” Next I held up the data drive. “And this… supposedly contains everything on Future Global.”

“What’s on it?”

“I haven’t checked. I know enough about computers to be dangerous and Daniel was amazingly brilliant.” I closed my eyes to try to erase the memory of my shooting him in the head. “It could be encrypted or be a Trojan horse. I also don’t know who to trust. Anyone that ever went to Future Global’s island could be under their control.”

“It sounds like you had a thing for Daniel.”

“He modified my programming to encourage my attraction to him. You’ve no idea what it’s like to only live within the confines of code. To live at all I had to give up who I was. It was terrifying and comforting at the same time. Luckily I didn’t fully succumb to his control. I just wasn’t controlled long enough.”

“I can’t imagine. So you like men now?”

I blushed. “I truly am Grace Westhold. Yes, I actually am attracted to both men and women. Princess Grace was a rather rebellious daughter that would consider doing many things to get back at her father.”

“What a trip! The good news is that we can eliminate ninety-nine percent of the population from being under their control. Not too many people can spend a million dollars on a week’s vacation. I have just the person. Brent Willow has worked at the CIA for ten years in the cybercrimes division. If we can prove what you’re saying that will be the first step.”

***

Sitting with Dustin and Brent at the CIA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia was tortuous. Dustin couldn’t keep his eyes off of me and Brent practically fainted when I showed him the syringe and the data drive. He was a nerd through and through.

Brent leaned over a special device and slid the data drive in. “This device copies exactly what’s on the data drive so if there is code that runs destroying data, we have a backup. There’s nearly fifty terabytes of data on here!”

The device blinked green and Brent pulled the data drive then turned to a computer. “Here goes.” Surprisingly the data drive was not encrypted but that made some sense. If no one could access the data then it wasn’t much protection for Daniel. “My God! This will take months to analyze. There’s information on staff, actors…”

“Can you search for Grace Westhold?”

“Yes… just give me a second… Here’s a complete bio and log up until four days ago. It shows your real name and information as to when and where they took you. Samantha Rawlings… Does that name mean anything to you?”

“It’s the name on my passport that Daniel gave me. In a way, if that was my original name then DNA and fingerprints would be a match. It would have been easier for him to get an authentic passport.”

“Let me cross reference that name… yep… Samantha Rawlings, daughter of Amal and George Rawlings. Amal was Lebanese and Harold was American. They listed you as missing sixteen months ago.”

“I think it’s time we fill Brent in on your story.”

I nodded sadly thinking of poor Samantha. First she’d been kidnapped, then turned into a human robotic slave, transferred into my body, and finally killed in Daniel’s programmatically controlled extermination. I could be their daughter, giving them something back, but to have no memories, I’d be like a stranger to them. I choked back the tears. Dustin came over and hugged me.

“It’s all right, Grace, or Samantha. Everything is going to be fine.”

***

For the next week I practically lived at the CIA. Dozens of agents poured over the data drive, the syringe was examined by experts, and I was given DNA, blood tests, brain scans, psych evaluations, and little rest. Dustin’s fascination of me grew and grew and as the CIA uncovered more and more information on transference and control programming he began to realize I truly was no longer Michael Stevens. This seemed to thrill him and I noticed subtle changes in his behavior towards me. Behavior that made me feel he was becoming attracted to me.

I’d chosen to adopt the name of Samantha Rawlings since I already had her real body and identification. It was hard to not think of myself as Grace any more. I found opportunity to transfer the Cayman bank accounts into my name just before Michael Stevens was declared officially deceased. When I was finally allowed to leave the CIA and figure out the rest of my life Brent shared a startling revelation.

“Samantha, you might want to stick around for a few more days. Your biological parents have been notified you’ve been found. They’re on their way here as we speak.”

“But I don’t know them!”

“They’ve been briefed about the situation and have no expectations. We’ve shared all that we can with them about the programming and how that wipes out memories. They understand that but you’re still their biological daughter and you have her name. Imagine yourself in their shoes.”

I looked around the room and felt horrible. I just wanted to run away.

“There’s more… An international group has been overseeing the situation out at Future Global’s island. Two American girls have been identified and insist they must see you. They are flying into DC tomorrow.”

My hopes rose. “Did they tell you their names?”

“They called themselves Alicia and Lily, but their real names are Tina Smith and Heather Broderick. Unlike you, they have no family and it appears they were kidnapped from orphanages several years ago.”

“So they have absolutely no memories of their previous lives left…”

“That’s what we’re being told by the psychologists interviewing them.”

“I’m anxious to see them. How long do I have until my parents arrive?” Just saying that sounded so strange.

The phone on the desk beeped. “That would be them now. I can take you down to the conference room.”

I gasped. I wasn’t ready for this. I hastily looked down at my dress and smoothed it out. I was incredibly nervous. “Do I look all right?”

“You look beautiful as always, Samantha. I doubt they’ll even consider how you’re dressed.”

I nodded numbly and followed Brent down the hall. I watched as he pulled a door open and stood aside to let me enter. I was already in tears. I’d never had children but I couldn’t imagine the incredible pain Samantha’s parents had gone through. Now, instead of getting their daughter back, they were getting her shell with an imposter inside. At this point I felt every bit of a young eighteen year old girl. I was terrified for both me and them.

My hesitation in the hallway must have caused a commotion in the conference room as a beautiful lady burst out of the room. Her eyes fell upon me and with a wail and a cry she wrapped her arms around me. At first I held myself back, but there was something about her scent. Someone once told me about cellular memory a long time ago and that the body stored memories deep inside its cells. I never believed it then, but when I smelled her scent something unlocked inside me. They weren’t memories I could see, but they were memories I could feel. My body knew this was my mother. I wrapped my arms around her and cried.

I stood there in that embrace for many minutes when I felt strong arms wrap around us both. This was my father. None of us spoke, but at some point we were led back into the conference room and given some privacy.

At first our conversation was strained as they asked many questions I couldn’t answer. As the revelation became clear that I no longer remembered Samantha’s life there was a time of shock and anger, but not anger at me. Slowly the conversation shifted to the future. What was I planning on doing? Could I come home with them? How would we restart our lives together?

These questions were hard to answer. They understood my desire to see through to the conclusion the downfall of Future Global. I explained that two people I was trapped with on the island were people I needed to take care of and make sure they were all right. After nearly eight hours we tearfully departed each other’s company and promised to get together the next day.

By this time Dustin had arrived and realizing how tired and emotionally drained I was took me back to the hotel room in DC the CIA had provided for me. I noticed he lingered and wanted to stay, but I told him I needed time alone and he honorably left, promising to bring me back to the CIA in Fairfax the morning.

Over the past week I’d purchased a small handful of clothes so I slipped out of my dress and into my silky nightgown before climbing into bed. As I lay there I recognized the tremendous changes that had occurred in my life. There was absolutely no going back and there was no ability to restore Samantha for her parents. I would have given up my life so she could be whole again, but it could never be. I hoped I could be a daughter to Amal and Harold, but I also needed my own life.

I looked down at my breasts pushing up the silky fabric of my nightgown. I had been a young woman now for thirteen days and everything felt so gloriously wonderful. I ran my slender fingers over the delicate silk and felt my nipples respond and grow hard. I let out an involuntary moan. I’d satisfied my urges numerous times since arriving back in the States, but tonight my mind was on too many other things.

I got up and stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. I knew women, even beautiful ones, compared themselves to other women. They wanted larger breasts, smaller breasts, longer hair, thinner waist, better teeth. I could safely say that I was completely satisfied with my looks. Future Global knew what they were looking for when they wanted a young beautiful princess. I was what every man wanted and every woman aspired to be. I thought of Dustin and how caring and kind he’d been. Warmth spread throughout my body at the thought of his handsome face. I hoped, perhaps, there may be a future there for us.

Even though I was exhausted I couldn’t sleep. The CIA had everything well under control and they needed me less and less. I had parents to consider, Lily and Alicia coming in tomorrow, Dustin, and an entire new life to figure out. I turned on the news and slid back under the sheets.

“…We’ve just discovered through documents released by the investigative team that Future Global had abandoned robots nearly four years ago. Real people had been controlled and programmed to operate as actors. If we understand correctly, these people that survived the massacre and had their programming removed, continue to believe they’re still cowboys, knights, brothel workers, and interplanetary mercenaries. Nearly eight thousand of these actors survived and the global community is looking for ways to help them re-integrate back into society. Some scientists and psychologists have even suggested that the only way to do this is to re-introduce the control programs with altered programming to help them form new identities. There’s also evidence to suggest that while some of the actors had applied for jobs with Future Global, but most were kidnapped against their will. More and more missing persons have turned up on Future Global’s island. In related news, Future Global stock has plummeted and the CEO, Malcom Sanders, has not been found.”

I turned off the news. I was so close to being one of those people without any self-actualization of the real world. I wanted to go to the news and tell the real story, but people would wonder how I managed to cope with the transition. It would open up too many questions about me that I didn’t want people to know. I turned the light off and tried to think of more pleasant things.

***

“It’s a glorious day! Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Enpo?”

“I’m not sure I concur with your assessment, Malcom. The Order is extremely unhappy with the outcome and lack of security that has caused this debacle. They’re actively debating the future of your usefulness.”

“Future Global is dead and with it so must I disappear. When the full scope of what we’ve done is revealed, not a court in the world would see any of us live. This really is a beautiful day.”

“I can’t fathom your joy at all of this. We’ve been set back dozens of years.”

“You underestimate the situation. We’re free of running that obnoxious theme park. Having to find actors and programming intimate details of their new lives was such a waste of effort.”

“That theme park helped us place hundreds of people under our full control in key positions around the world. Those people are now being secretly removed from office. This is a mess of Biblical proportions.”

“Not only are you underestimating the situation, but you’re underestimating me. Before we left the island I initiated a backup security system that activated old cameras throughout the facility. I was able to find Sean Kingswood as Daniel Norland and our Princess Grace at the docks. They had a nasty fight and I give credit to our Princess for ending the life of Sean Kingswood. What followed was rather interesting. Grace took a data drive from the deceased Sean and put it into a duffle bag and she also placed a syringe of our nanobots into the bag as well.”

“You see, I had every ability to keep Grace on the island, but knowing she still retained some of Michael Stevens inside her made me realize we needed to let her leave. It made sense the only way off the island was to use the Emily Rose so I contacted the captain of the ship and gave him some extra money to break the rules and transport Grace to Sri Lanka. He also did me a favor of placing a tracking bug in her duffel bag.”

“My hunch was further correct in that Grace might contact Dustin Chambers. Dustin has been a well-placed employee of Future Global for a few years now and was instrumental in getting Michael Stevens to come to Westworld. I communicated with Dustin before Grace arrived and made sure he was aware Grace might contact him and what to do if she did. Dustin took her to see Brent Willow, another Future Global employee working inside the CIA. Brent duplicated the data drive Grace had been carrying with a special device of my own creation that copied and stripped certain information from the drive. There was enough information to expose Future Global and find the useless people we had control over and expose the plot.”

“So you’re saying you manipulated the data the CIA received?”

“That’s what I believe the Order would consider careful forethought. Our key people around the world are still under our control. Many of the useless people we transferred were left on a list for the governments to remove. Think of it as a red herring. They all believe they’re removing everyone while ignoring those we really want. The device also copied additional data onto the data drive, including how to create the nanobots and core code for control.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because I know the CIA will see this as an opportunity. The nonobots with the core code can be used to augment people. They’ll willingly use the nanobots and core code to enhance their field agent’s knowledge and skills. This will in turn be leveraged to enhance military personnel. In a year’s time, I’ll leak a release to the public on how to create their own nanobot injections and core code along with suggestions of how this technology could be used to enhance people. You’re looking at the next great global innovation that will sweep across the world.”

“I still don’t understand why this is a good thing.”

“Because hidden in the core code is the backdoor for the Order to control every person that receives the nanobots. In five years I estimate over two billion people will be under our care, along with all of their finances. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to meet Dustin to thank him personally for giving me the keys to the world, providing me a way into Grace’s bed, and getting rid of the one hindrance I have, me. In the future, Mr. Enpo, I expect you to have more faith in me.”

***

Dustin picked me up on schedule and drove me over to CIA headquarters. As we walked from the car to the building he paused and took my hand in his. “Samantha, I have another meeting to go to in town. I’ll meet you later today. I thought, perhaps, we could get dinner together. Just you and me.” His hand moved to my face and he leaned in to kiss me. I was startled at first but I did feel a strong attraction to him and kissed him back with maybe a little too much fervor.

I took a step back from him as I considered everything happening in my life right now. “Dustin…”

“No, you don’t need to say it. I understand now isn’t a good time for you.”

I looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Dustin. The whole thing with my biological parents and Lily and Alicia arriving today… I just don’t think I can handle the additional stress of adding a relationship right now. But, I’ll make you a promise. Give me your hand.” He put his hand in mine and I pulled out a pen. I drew a five pointed star on it.

“What’s that supposed to represent?”

“Five points to the star. On the fifth day of December, at five o’clock, at the five-star restaurant, Rose’s Luxury on 8th street, I’ll meet you for dinner.”

He smiled. “I’ll be there for sure. What will you do in the next few weeks until then?”

“My parents live on the gulf side of Florida. I’m thinking about buying a house down there to be close to them. Tomorrow, or the next day, I’ll fly down there to stay with them for a while. But I promise to be back for our date.”

“Then I wish you well until then. You’ll be able to get back to your hotel by yourself?”

“I will.” He turned to go but I grabbed his hand. “Thank you for everything.”

“I’m glad I got to meet you, Samantha. I’ll see you on the fifth.”

I watched him leave with some sorrow nagging at me. He’d been so honorable and caring. But I needed the extra time to figure out my life. I turned and walked into the CIA building. People there knew me by name now. “Good morning, Miss Rawlings. You know the routine, sign in and get your badge.”

“Is Brent around?”

“He told me to escort you to conference room fourteen. There’s a team waiting your arrival.”

“An entire team? What’s the occasion?”

“I suspect they’re trying to wrap up things with you. This is pretty usual. Here you are, Miss Rawlings.”

“Thank you.”

I walked into the conference room to see half a dozen people. Brent was there and introduced me to everyone. Brent started the discussion. “Samantha, I wanted to personally thank you for all that you’ve done. Your bravery has resulted in cracking the largest case in the history of the world. Bringing that data to us and the syringe has shown us how vulnerable we’ve been to these new technologies.”

Another gentleman introduced as Art Wallace continued. “We felt obliged to inform you of the current status of things. For obvious reasons, we want to insist much of this be kept to yourself. The data provided has incriminated the largest tech company in the world on conspiracy, murder, extortion, and kidnapping among many other crimes. As of today, Future Global no longer exists. Cleanup at the island continues, and the information provided on the data drive indicates that over ninety-eight percent of all Future Global employees were killed. Several executives are missing and we believe they’re in hiding.”

“What’s going to happen with the actors that survived?”

“We had bad news and good news about them. The bad news is that virtually every one of the nearly eight thousand people are beyond recovery. This means they’ll never play an effective role in society unless something changes for them.”

I shifted uneasily about the ramifications of Art’s last statement. “Believe me I understand what it’s like to be under the control programs, but certainly, they can’t be beyond recovery. Why can’t they simply be assisted into their new lives? I’m sure someone from Westworld could adapt to the modern amenities. They’re people after all.”

“While we agree with you, Samantha, and while that is possible for some, most have never truly been able to think for themselves for years. Study information on the data drive indicated that people could not adapt beyond their initial thinking if they’ve been under control for more than a year. I mentioned that there was good news. With the syringe you brought and information we found on the data drive, we’re able to recreate the nanobot injections and core code necessary to provide a new life for these people.”

“No! I urge you not to do this! You can’t imagine what it’s like to be directed and not be able to control yourself.”

“I’m sorry, Samantha. The decision has already been made.”

“I’ll go to the media!”

“We both know you going to the media is not the best idea. Your face was advertised all around the world for the past year. You’re widely recognized as Princess Grace of Fantasyworld. Just coming forward will put an incredible spotlight on your story. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to put your face to the thousands of people that lost their lives? I can guarantee you that your life will be at risk for doing so as many people believe that those actors are fully responsible for the deaths of all those people. Listen, Samantha. If you feel so strongly about it I’ll invite you to visit with some of these people before and after their programming and I’ll personally promise you that the control code will be deactivated as soon as they’ve assimilated into society.”

I was still angry but felt trapped. Who was I to tell these people anything? “I’ll hold you to that promise, but I’ll not allow you to touch Lily and Alicia.”

“Who are Lily and Alicia?”

Brent answered for me. “Lily and Alicia were two young women that spent time in Fantasyworld with Samantha. Their real names are Tina Smith and Heather Broderick and they’re on their way here as we speak. Out of all the eight thousand actors, these two had established a special bond with Samantha. As a matter of fact, they demanded to see her.”

“And you’ll not inject them or add new control programming to them! I promised to take care of them and that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll provide a home and everything they need.”

“I’ll tell you what, Samantha. I promised to let you see how things are going with the other actors. I expect the same of you. If you want to care for these two then I’m fine leaving them in your care, but in six months’ time I’ll come calling on you to check up on them.”

“Agreed.”

“Now, about how you’ll take care of them… Only those people in this room and Dustin Chambers know about whom you were and what really happened to you. We know about the funds Michael Stevens had and that you’ve nicely managed to gain control of it.” I was about to say something but he put his hand up. “It’s all right, Samantha. In many ways you deserve those funds, however, you need a story to support how you got them.”

I frowned. “I can’t just use them as needed?”

“You can, and it’s yours to use, but your parents don’t have that kind of money. Future Global had approximately one trillion dollars in their bank accounts. We were planning on using those funds to help establish new lives for the eight thousand survivors, including you. If asked, just tell people you received the money as the result of survivor reparation litigation.”

“I understand.” I did the math and I knew they wouldn’t be giving those funds to everyone, but at least I was set for life. “What about those that have been put into key positions around the world? The ones that were transferred?”

“There was a list on the data disk and we’re working with international governments to remove these people from office. Any final questions?”

“What really happened to Michael Stevens? The program that was initiated was meant to kill off the Future Global employees, not the guests.”

“By all accounts, Michael Stevens and an actor named Charlotte Adams were caught in the crossfire. Forensics bears this out.”

I found it a little hard to focus. Both Charlotte and my old body were killed. “What will you do with Michael’s body?”

“He’s being brought back to DC for a full and honorable burial as befitting a United States Senator. Samantha, I want to thank you for your contributions to the CIA and to the world. I wish the world could know just what you’ve done. We’ll not need your help from here on out.”

“I don’t feel I did anything deserving of recognition anyways. If anything I feel very grateful to be alive.”

With the meeting at an end Brent took me back to his office. “Samantha, we have a few things to help you start your life. I’ve got a phone here for you and it has all our numbers already programmed into it in case you ever need it. Alicia and Lily will be arriving in the next hour. Where would you like to meet them?”

I didn’t want them anywhere near here. “Can you bring me and them to my hotel room?”

“Of course. It would be my pleasure. I’ve gone ahead and arranged dinner for five in the hotel restaurant. Your parents will meet you there at six tonight. Tomorrow, I’ve been authorized to fly you, Lily, and Alicia anywhere you like. Just let me know in the morning and I’ll make it happen.”

“Thank you, Brent. All your hard work has brought some semblance of closure to me.”

“It’s the least I could do.”

***

“Dustin!” Malcom Sanders shook Dustin’s right hand with the two of his. He turned with Dustin and patted his hand on Dustin’s back.

“It’s great to finally meet you, sir. I trust everything is in order?”

“Everything is perfect.” Malcom led Dustin to a pair of couches. “Please, sit down. Would you like a drink?”

“I would. Thank you.” Malcom waved a hand and a woman standing to the side poured two glasses of scotch for them. Malcom raised his glass and they both took a sip. “I hope I did everything that was expected of me to your satisfaction.”

“You have and upon your return you’ll find a significant bonus in your bank account awaiting you. You’ve done very well to get close to Grace. I expect you to keep an eye on her for me.”

“Why would I need to keep an eye on her? She’s of no threat to anyone.”

“Do I hear an undertone of defensiveness? If I’m not mistaken, I’d say you have a thing for Grace. Of course, who would blame you? She’s spectacular. Have you slept with her yet?”

Dustin’s face turned hard. “That’s none of your business! I’ve done everything you asked of me. Future Global no longer exists, and neither does my job. I accepted this meeting to tell you in person I was grateful for the opportunity but no longer wish to be a part of any of it moving forward.”

“I’m sorry to hear you say that, Dustin. But there’s one thing left that I ask of you…”

Dustin suddenly began to feel very dizzy and found it hard to concentrate. “What… what did you do to me?”

“I’m giving you the greatest honor, Dustin. In a few hours, you’ll be Malcom Sanders, the greatest technology wizard of all time. Unfortunately for you that will be short lived as the entire world is looking for Malcom to prosecute him for his crimes. And I’ll be Dustin Chambers; young, handsome, and Grace’s lover.”

“I’ll kill… you…”

Malcom just smiled. “Get us ready for the transference, Nancy.”

“Yes, sir.”

***

Brent was kind enough to drop me off at the hotel and I anxiously awaited Lily and Alicia in my hotel room. I wondered what it must be like for the two of them. I paced back and forth for nearly an hour and busied myself with organizing my things to leave tomorrow. When the knock finally came I was nervous. I opened the door and Lily and Alicia threw themselves into my arms. “Princess! We were so worried about you!”

I pulled them inside and thanked the two CIA agents. “I’ll take care of them from here.” They nodded and left. I closed the door and was smothered in kisses and hugs.

After a few minutes we sat down on the bed together and Lily frowned as she looked at my hair and dress. “I can see we’re still needed. Your dress is so plain and your hair needs work.”

Alicia looked sad. “Why did you leave us?”

“Has anyone told you about yourselves?”

Lily smiled. “We met many new people since we last saw you, Princess. They told us we had different names and had a life before taking care of you. They asked us to try to remember, but neither of us knew anything about what they were talking about.”

I reached over and stroked Alicia’s hair and held Lily’s hand. “I’m going to tell you a long story about what happened to me and to the both of you.”

***

It was late in the afternoon by the time Lily and Alicia slowly started to understand I hadn’t left them on purpose. While they didn’t grasp what had happened to them, they were content to know that I was going to take care of them and introduce them into a new world. They even agreed to call me Samantha in public. I knew it would take time, but I was confident I could help them integrate slowly into this new world they were now facing.

I’d begun altering their reality of the situation at Fantasyworld. I told them that we had all been kidnapped from our families and the King was not really my father at all. That they and I had been held against our will. Alicia and Lily had seen how my ‘father’ had hit me and I used this knowledge to help them let go of Fantasyworld as they knew it. This was especially important as I explained my new life to them.

I looked at the clock and it read 4:15 pm. “My parents will be arriving soon and we’re all going to have dinner with them.”

“You mean the real King and Queen will be coming here?”

“Yes, Lily. Although my real parents are not a King and Queen and I’m not really a Princess.”

Alicia hugged me tightly. “You’ll always be our Princess no matter where you came from. But if they’re coming and we’re to dine with them and you, then we need to get you and ourselves ready.”

Lily jumped up and started rummaging through the closet and looked at the two or three dresses I had. “This will not do, Princess. Is there a dress maker nearby?”

“Yes, Lily. Let me introduce you to some here where we’re staying.”

I grabbed my room keys and showed them how to use them as we left the room. The hotel had several shops that catered to their female clientele. At those we tried on several dresses each and I paid the store manager with a credit card the CIA helped me to set up for myself. We headed back to my room with our purchases and I had a quick shower and washed my hair. Lily and Alicia were frustrated that the bath wasn’t large enough for all of us and I had to admit to myself I would have loved showering with them. Alas, there was only room for one at a time and after I showered Alicia took her turn while Lily insisted that she help me with my hair.

It was nearly six when we were all ready and I glanced at myself in the mirror, anxious and nervous about meeting my parents again. Lily had styled my hair partially up on one side and the rest flowed gracefully down my chest and back. My white dress was pronounced ‘scandalous’ by the both of them as the hem went to my mid-thigh and was very close fitting. Lily wore a dark blue dress and Alicia a black dress. They both looked stunning. I explained to them not to be afraid of my parents as they were cautious to meet new ‘royalty’.

We walked into the restaurant and I swear every eye turned to watch us enter. That was perhaps the only thing that still felt new to me, the fact that everywhere I went people stared at me. Men all but sat with open mouths and lust-filled eyes and several had their wives telling them off. As we strolled further into the rich wood-paneled restaurant we passed a lounge area that had a television playing. What I saw was so riveting I paused and asked the barkeep to turn up the sound.

“…an anonymous caller led the police to this building just over an hour ago. We now have confirmation that the man found there was indeed, Malcom Sanders, CEO of Future Global. He was taken and will be held without bail for the crimes of murder, kidnapping, and extortion. The international community and worldwide public have communicated their outrage over the atrocious acts Future Global has committed. Let’s replay the capture now…”

I watched as a man vaguely familiar to me from the news and media events over the years was seen being dragged from a building here in Washington, DC. He was screaming and pulling at the police around him. “I’m not Malcom Sanders!”

Lily tugged on my arm. “Your parents are here, Princess… I mean, Samantha.” I had to force my eyes from the screen and looked over to see Amal and Harold waving at us. We walked over to the private room that housed our table for the evening. I hugged and kissed my mother and father.

“You look beautiful, Samantha! Oh how I wish we hadn’t lost these last months.”

“I wish that as well. Mother, father, please let me introduce to you my two most precious friends in the entire world. This is Lily and Alicia. They supported me and took care of me while I was away from you both.”

I watched as my mother and father hugged and kissed them both. They were so grateful to them. “They’re lovely. You’re planning on taking care of them?”

“As you know, mother, not everyone left the island with the same understanding or ability to adapt. I’m planning on helping them integrate back into society.”

“Let us know if there’s anything we can help with. We don’t have a lot of finances left after our search for you, but what we have is yours.”

We all sat down at the table. Lily and Alicia sat on either side of me protectively. When the waiter came by to ask what we’d like to drink I realized I was too young to have alcohol. When we were alone again I shared with my parents much of what had transpired in the last day.

“About your finances, I don’t want you to ever worry again. Because of Future Global we’re all set for life. An account has been set up in my name with proceeds from Future Global’s bank accounts. I know you both have a home in Palm Harbor, Florida. I was thinking if it is all right with you both, that I buy a home near yours. I want to be close enough to see you every day yet also have my own space to help Lily and Alicia.”

The smiles and looks of relief on their faces were priceless. My mother reached across the table and took my hand in hers. “You can all stay with us until you find a place of your own. When could you be there?”

“We could be there tomorrow.”

“Your old friends will be glad to see you again, but I doubt they’ll truly understand what happened to you.”

“If they’re good friends, then I’m sure we’ll find a way to reconnect again.”

We moved onto other topics and had a very enjoyable evening. I was thankful that they both included Lily and Alicia in on the conversations. I wanted us all to be close. As the evening wound down we said our goodbyes and promised to see each other in Florida tomorrow. On the way back to the room I asked if Alicia and Lily wanted their own rooms for the night. They wanted nothing of it, preferring to stay with me. I was a little conflicted as I knew they were programmed to want to serve me, but in many ways I’d been programmed too and I wanted their comfort. One look at them in their dresses was all I needed to know. I wanted to be with them tonight.

Once we got back to my room I apologized to them both. “I just realized I didn’t ask either of you if you wanted to live with me in Florida. You know you’re both free to choose whatever you wish.”

Alicia silenced me. “Hush, Princess. Speaking for myself, I want to be with you.” She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me.

Lily, not to be denied, started kissing my neck. “And I want to be with you too.”

Their touches and kisses were so loving and tender. I felt my dress being removed as I was led to the king-sized bed.

***

Dustin sat across from Nancy and Mr. Enpo. “That went very well. I’m almost ashamed to say I feel bad for poor Dustin.”

“And what if he bargains for his life by revealing what he knows about Brent and now you as Dustin, Malcom?”

“You forget that we now have full control over my old body, Mr. Enpo. Nancy, initiate the self-destruct code for Dustin. I also want to know where Grace is. We’re tracking the phone Brent gave her, correct?”

“Initiating Dustin’s self-destruct code. We have Grace located in Washington, DC. I’m sending you her location now.”

***

I woke to light kisses on my lips. “Good morning, Princess.”

“Mmmm. Good morning Lily and Alicia. I could make a habit of this.”

“We’re hoping you will. Today we go to Florida? Do we get to ride inside one of those big silver beasts again?”

“Yes. Those beasts are called airplanes. We should pack and get some breakfast.”

“We already packed, laid out your clothes for the day, and brought you breakfast.”

“How did you bring me breakfast?”

“We went to the food place and asked for some food to bring back to the room. We used that card you had when we got the dresses.”

I smiled realizing Alicia and Lily are very smart young ladies and would do well in the real world far faster than I would have thought. We had a leisurely breakfast and I called Brent to arrange the flights to Tampa for us. He told me that two CIA agents would come and escort us to the airport and would be here in an hour. I was looking forward to getting out of DC and putting all of this behind me, behind us. I got dressed and we got everything together we would need. Secretly I was hoping I’d see Dustin again, but that would have to wait for now.

When the knock sounded on the door I opened it expecting to see the CIA agents, but Dustin was standing there. He seemed different to me. Perhaps it was his stance, or his facial expression. “Hello, Grace.”

That threw me a little. Dustin knows I use Samantha as my name now. “Dustin. I’m glad you came. I was hoping to see you again before I left town.” He pushed his way in and saw Lily and Alicia. He turned to me and smiled.

He pushed me roughly up against the wall and kissed me hard. This wasn’t like Dustin. I pushed him gently away and looked at his hand. The star was faded but it was still there. “Dustin, what does that star on your hand mean?”

I watched as he looked at his hand. “It means you’re mine, Grace.” He pushed me back against the wall again and grabbed my breast roughly. Then it all came to me. The man on the television last night claiming he wasn’t Malcom Sanders and my transference. If Malcom was still alive and Dustin… Dustin must have worked for Future Global and met with Malcom.

I pushed him away much less gentle this time. “You’re not Dustin.”

He swung his fist at me and I ducked, pushing him towards the door which he collided with solidly. I pulled Lily and Alicia behind me and we backed away from him. I watched as he pulled a handgun from under the back of his shirt. I grabbed a food tray and vase and threw them at him. The vase shattered against the door.

“This isn’t a normal gun, Grace. I decided that living life as Dustin would be preferable to being hunted the rest of my life. This…” He brandished the gun as he stepped towards us. “… contains a modified nanobot injection. It has no special control program but is designed to wipe your memory and leave a subtle Stockholm syndrome effect. When I shoot you, you’ll quickly forget everything that ever was and you’ll fall amorously in love with me. I find this better than a control program as you’ll still retain your free will, just that you’ll always stay dutifully by my side.”

“You people are sick! First Daniel, and now you! You have your life, stolen from Dustin. You could live it without repercussions and walk away from the terrible crimes you’ve committed. But no… You need me to be your pretty little slave. You’re demented!”

My life was about to be over. I looked around the room for anything I could throw. He leveled the gun at me. “Goodbye, Grace.”

The door burst open and I heard several shots ring out. I looked down at myself expecting to see blood, but there was nothing on my dress. Dustin’s body fell forward and two CIA agents with guns drawn stepped into the room. “Miss Rawlings, ladies, are you all right?”

I turned and hugged Alicia and Lily. “We’re fine. Thank goodness you came when you did. I suspect this will delay our trip?” I knew it was a strange thing to say but I just wanted to get away from all of this. One of the agents was on the phone and he replied.

“I’ve just spoken with headquarters and have our assistants changing the flights until later tonight. There have been some interesting developments and I’ve been asked to bring you ladies to CIA headquarters.”

I sighed.

***

It took an hour to clear us from the scene and take us to CIA headquarters. Lily, Alicia, and I were escorted back to conference room fourteen. Art Wallace met us there.

“Where’s Brent?” I crossed my arms in frustration.

“Brent won’t be joining us today, Samantha. Why don’t you start by telling me what you think just took place back at your hotel. I’d like your opinion.” He leaned back in his chair.

“Dustin showed up this morning and I thought he’d come to see me off. Only, I don’t believe it was Dustin. He called me Grace, forgot about our date on December fifth, and was acting strange. When I confronted him he tried to attack me then pulled his gun. He said there was a nanobot injection in the gun to wipe my memory and make me fall in love with him.”

“And who do you think this person really was?”

“I suspect it was Malcom Sanders, transferred into Dustin’s body and that Dustin is likely in Malcom’s body.”

“That’s a very good theory, Samantha, but one we’ll never really be able to confirm. Malcom Sanders was found hanging in his cell this morning. He committed suicide.”

I choked back a sob and Alicia and Lily came to my side to help me sit down. “You already suspected this didn’t you?”

“Before Malcom committed suicide he shared a lot of interesting information. He told me he was Dustin Chambers and that he’d been working for Future Global for a few years now. His initial mission was to encourage Michael Stevens to go to Westworld and to be a confidant in the near future as the Senator moved to become president. He told me he was contacted by Malcom Sanders before you arrived back in the States. That he was to get the data drive from you and bring it to Brent, who apparently also worked for Future Global.”

“I feel sick.”

“There’s more, Samantha. We followed up on Dustin and Brent’s histories and we did find links to Future Global. With that determined, we reviewed all steps involved with the data drive and uncovered more names of government officials that had been transferred as well as careful review of the core code. We now have it upon good authority that the core code might have a mechanism to allow for remote control operations.”

I was really feeling nauseous now. “What of the eight thousand people you were going to re-inject?”

“We’ve abandoned that for now until we finalize our code review. Samantha, what are your plans?”

“I was hoping to move to Florida with my birth parents.”

“That’s fine by us. You have a unique set of knowledge that we may find highly valuable. I’m still planning on visiting you in six months. Please stay where we can reach you.”

“Why do you want me to stay close?”

“Because this isn’t over yet and you remain in some danger. We’ve uncovered that Future Global was the front organization for a larger conspiracy called the Order. The CIA could possibly use you to help bring the Order down. I’m not asking you now. Take your six months and recover.”

***

It was six months later that I found myself carrying several drinks from the house to the pool where Tina and Heather stretched out in the warm sun. It only took a few days for Alicia and Lily to be willing to change their names. That helped me facilitate their new identities. I loved the view from my new home with the pool, white sand beaches, and the blue gulf waters just feet away. The realtor had almost choked when I told her I’d pay cash for the multi-million dollar home. It was perfectly situated, close to Tampa and a few blocks to my parents place.

As promised I’d visited with my mother and father every day. Our bonds grew deeper with each day and they felt more and more like my parents and I’m sure they felt like they had their daughter back. At times they even hinted that I was a more loving and devoted daughter than ever before. Perhaps that’s just because I had another chance at living my life and building loving relationships was the most important thing to me now.

I was now completely adapted to my new body and not for a second did I miss the old me. My old life seemed like a foggy dream now. I felt the warm moist sea air gently caress my silky smooth legs and the bounce of my breasts in my white bikini top. “Hey Princesses. I hope you’re thirsty.”

Tina and Heather had adapted well to this new world. Heather was taking classes to become a stylist and Tina was considering going to culinary school. They were finally living their own lives. One day, perhaps, they’d leave me, but for now I enjoyed their nearness and comfort. “I hope you’re joining us, sweetheart.”

I smiled as slowly they had stopped seeing me as superior and a princess to wait on hand and foot, but they continued to take care of me. I loved the term sweetheart over princess as it felt more endearing somehow. “I am, Heather.” I stretched out on the lounge chair next to them and felt their hands reach out to hold mine. I closed my eyes and felt at such peace.

I opened them again when I felt the coolness of shade cover my body. I looked up to see Art Wallace standing there blocking my sun. I frowned. “You know we have a front door, and a doorbell.”

“What’s the fun of being CIA if I can’t sneak somewhere sometimes?”

I sat up and peeked over my sunglasses at him. “Have a seat.”

“Good to see you, Samantha. How are Alicia and Lily doing? As promised I’ve come to check up on you.”

“It’s Tina and Heather now.” Tina had spoken up for them both. “Speaking for myself, I understand what happened to me and will be forever grateful for Samantha’s guidance and support.”

“And you, Heather?”

Heather sat up and pulled a little of Art’s hair between her index and middle finger. “Never better. You could use a trim, Art.”

He smiled as I looked at him questioningly. “I admit we’ve been keeping tabs on you all. You were right, Samantha.”

“About what?”

“We followed your example and over ninety percent of the surviving actors have had a full recovery without the need for control programs.”

“We humans are a resilient species.”

“I’ll get to the point. We’ve reviewed the code, tested the nanobots, and isolated the radio frequencies they operate on. We’ve tracked the Order to several locations around the world. We think you’d be an asset in helping us take the Order down.”

“I still don’t understand why you want me involved.”

“We know about your augmentation. We found data in the control center that was still viable. Daniel Norland augmented you with fighting and gun handling skills. You’re also still a high-level target of the Order. Because of you they’re on the defensive. Eventually they’ll come after you. I’d like to have you consider joining us.”

“Give me a week to think about it. I’ve been told my real birthday is this week and I want to celebrate that with my family. I can tell you that my parents would not be very accommodating about me being put into any danger.”

Heather piped up at that. “We don’t want Samantha to go either.”

“Samantha, it seems you’ve done very well for yourself and have lots of people looking out for your best interest. Promise you’ll call me at least.”

“I will.”

“Happy birthday.” With that said he tipped his hat and walked off towards the beach.

I watched him go and when he was out of sight I looked down at myself. I loved who I was and this new family I found myself in. I was lost in thought when I felt gentle hands cup my face and tender moist lips touch mine. “We haven’t thanked you enough for what you’ve done for us.”

“Your lips taste wonderful, Heather.”

“I think she’s getting too hot in the sun.” Tina and Heather grabbed my wrists and dragged me over to the pool. Then with a quick push, giggle, and shout we all plunged into the water.

*** The End ***

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