by vessica b
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I tossed my phone on the bed and sighed. Eddie's obsession with Amanda Jenkins was really getting out of hand. He had just called, so excited I could barely understand him, babbling about how Amanda was some kind of alien and that he had the proof. Worse, I had been asleep when he called. In my defense, it was nearly two in the morning.
Shaking my head, I rolled out of bed and grabbed my jeans. It was either that or deal with more phone calls or, if I was really stubborn, a fired-up Eddie pounding on my door. Either way, I wasn't going to get my beauty rest tonight. Two minutes later I was tooling toward his place, my old rattle-trap of a car actually behaving itself for a change.
He must have seen me coming because he had the door open before I could raise my hand to knock. "Matt, get in here, quick." He glanced behind me and to both sides, as if afraid I'd brought a posse of ninjas with me or something. I allowed him to pull me inside, too tired to work up a sarcastic reply.
It was then that I got a really good look at him - he was a mess. Dirt and scratches on his face and arms. Clothing all torn and grass-stained. One knee bleeding through a hole in his jeans. Leaves and dirt in his hair.
"Damn, Eddie. What the hell happened to you?"
"I found proof, Matt. Proof that Amanda is . . . "
I cut him off, pointing at his clothes. "No, you idiot. I mean what's with the torn clothes and the blood and stuff. You look like you tangled with a grizzly bear."
He glanced down, seemed to realize for the first time what state he was in, and grinned sheepishly at me. "Oh, yeah, that. Getting out of Thornapples' woods at night with a dead flashlight is no picnic."
My brain still wasn't fully awake. "Why the hell were you . . . no , forget that for now. You need to get cleaned up."
He lifted a battered knapsack. "But, Matt, I got proof . . . "
"Eddie. I'm here now. I'm not going anywhere. The 'proof' can wait ten minutes while you get a shower and some clean clothes."
"Yeah, I guess so . . . " Then he grinned and picked up the knapsack before heading for the bathroom. When I looked a question at him, he winked. "Can't have you peeking until I get back."
I leaned back on Eddies' bed, wondering if my friend had finally lost all his marbles. He'd been a bit crazy on the subject of Amanda Jenkins since she moved here a year and a half ago. Of course, I couldn't really blame him. Pretty much every male in town over the age of twelve fell into that category, me included. Amanda was one of those rare American beauties - tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and built like a brick outhouse.
While she naturally attracted quite a bit of attention, she rarely returned it. Oh, she was never rude. In fact, she was always perfectly polite. She just never seemed interested in anyone else. And that was a puzzle that drove Eddie crazy. Beginning shortly after she first appeared, he'd been investing more and more time and effort in discovering just what made Amanda Jenkins tick. When he'd started tailing her a year ago, I'd tried to stop him at first. But then he showed me the photos. Always of Amanda with a random stranger, the two of them always entering a random motel room at a random nearby town. It was the totally random bits that really got to Eddie. There was no pattern to any of it. He must have come up with a hundred different theories to explain the facts. I even tried to help a few times, when I was really bored. But we never could work out an explanation that would satisfy Eddie.
Now he's talking aliens. Aliens. I shook my head. Perhaps his obsession with Amanda has finally pushed him over the edge. I heard the water stop running and took a deep breath. Hopefully, that shower gave him some time to come to his senses. Otherwise, it was going to be a very long night.
Eddie came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel and grin. Oh, and lugging that beat-up knapsack.
"You ready for this?"
"I just hope 'this' isn't a figment of your fevered imagination." I grinned to take the sting out of my words. "You're not exactly objective when it comes to Amanda, you know."
"Yeah, mebbe so. But check out what that got me . . . " He typed a password into his laptop and hit ENTER. The screen showed, among other things, a viewer displaying a dark image. "While I was waiting for you to get here, I uploaded all the shots I took tonight. Not sure how clear they'll be. I snapped most of these pretty quick, and couldn't use the flash, so . . . "
I squinted at the screen. "So . . . what am I looking at?"
He pointed at a lighter blob. "That's Amanda, right after she reached the rendezvous point."
I gave him my best 'you're shitting me' stare. "Eddie, that picture's almost useless. And what's with this 'rendezvous point' shit? Are you serious?"
He made a 'be patient' motion with his hand. "Gimme a few here, bud. This gets better."
Flipping through a sequence of under-exposed images, he said, "Here's where she strips off her clothes."
The images, poor as they were, could possibly have been a woman undressing. I kept silent and waited as he paged through a new set of images.
" . . . and here's where she takes off the . . . ", he looked confused. "I'm not sure what to call it. The 'skin suit'?" He shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno."
Something chilled my spine and made me lean closer to the computer. These new shots, while just as grainy as the rest, were very unusual. The light figure was definitely wriggling out of something, which ended up on the ground. The figure, still standing, was now a dark gray. It didn't look like a woman anymore. In fact, it looked suspiciously like one of those 'alien' photos you sometimes see while waiting in line at the supermarket. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
"Shit. Are you Photoshopping aliens into your pics now, Eddie?"
"What? No. These are legit, man!"
"Really?" I pointed at the screen. "Because this looks like it was lifted right out of one of those cheap tabloids."
Eddie just stared at me for few seconds, then got up and retrieved that knapsack. Taking a deep breath, he unzipped it and reached inside.
"I was hoping to build up to this a little more, but . . . here goes . . . " He pulled out a mass of tan material and dumped it on the bed. Motioning me to join him, he carefully spread the object out.
My stomach did flip-flops. There on the bed lay what looked like the empty skin of Amanda Jenkins.
Somehow I managed to keep my supper down. Eddie didn't say a word the whole time. He just waited for me to get myself under control. Finally, I felt steady enough to speak.
"Holy shit, Eddie. This is . . . no, no, no . . . this can't be what it looks like."
Eddie spoke quietly. "Matt, this is just some sort of disguise. I saw the alien take this off. I was there. I saw it."
I could feel a giggle threatening to force it's way out. "But aliens aren't real, man. They're not real."
Eddie steered me to a chair, then pulled another up close and sat.
"Matt, I'm gonna tell you everything that happened - start to finish. You just listen, okay? I got pictures . . . ", he glanced at the laptop, " . . . and I've got . . . evidence . . . ", he glanced at the bed. "Just hear me out. Then we'll try to make sense of it, okay?"
I just nodded. I couldn't look at what was lying on the bed. Eddie started talking.
"I followed Amanda up through Thornapples' woods. I had no idea where she was going, but she sure seemed to. When she reached a certain spot, she stopped and took something out of her purse. I thought it was a cell phone, but she didn't do anything except look at it while she turned around. Then she put it away. She just stood there, like she was waiting."
"I made myself comfortable and waited too. After about fifteen minutes, she dropped her purse and started to undress. I had no idea what was going on. She took off everything, dropping each piece of clothing as she went. Then I saw her lift her hair away from her neck with one hand and reach back there with the other. It was too dark and too far for me to see clearly, but she seemed to change suddenly, like she wasn't the same size anymore. Then it got really weird."
"She pulled her hair forward. I thought maybe she was removing a wig, but when she was done, her hair and face were hanging in front of her. Her head was smooth and rounded, an almost featureless gray. No hair at all. And big eyes. Huge eyes."
"I couldn't move. I was frozen. But she wasn't finished. She kept working, peeling that . . . ", his eyes flicked to object on the bed and back, " . . . off her arms, her torso, and finally her legs. Then she added it to the pile of clothes.. Eddie licked his lips. "I couldn't believe it, man. She was short and thin and gray and sexless. I wanted to run, to get far away from there, from her . . . it. But I couldn't stop watching."
"She took something from her purse, fiddled with it, then dropped it on the pile. After watching it for a few seconds, she walked away. I waited maybe a minute, to see if she was coming back. Then I made a bee-line for that pile. Here clothes were there, and her purse, and that thing she dropped last. That thing had my attention. Bars and circles and squares were appearing and disappearing on it's face in different combinations."
Eddie leaned close and stared into my eyes. "Here's where I got lucky. I was watching that thing, and I got the strongest impression it was counting." He saw my eyes widen and grinned. "You figured that out faster than I did. Still, I managed to grab that . . . ", he nodded toward the bed, " . . . and her purse and run like hell away from that thing. I ducked behind the biggest tree I could find and prayed that I was far enough away. When it came, there was no boom, just a soft purple flash."
"I waited several minutes before going back. During that time I saw a strange set of lights rise from the woods and head East. Yeah, yeah, I know, UFO's and aliens don't exist. Anyway, I did go back to that spot. Nothing was there. No crater. No damage or fire or smoke. It was clean. All her stuff was gone, but every tree, bush, and dead leaf was still there, exactly as I left it. All I know is that was one very selective bomb."
Eddie quit talking, and I just sat there for a minute, digesting his story. I had to admit, it was pretty 'out there'. On the other hand, the skin of Amanda Jenkins was lying just a few feet away.
I dragged my eyes away from it and back to Eddie. "You, uh . . . you said you got her purse?"
"Yeah." He pulled an object from the backpack. "Here . . . it looks pretty, um . . . normal . . . to me."
"Normal, huh? Well, that would be a first for tonight." I opened the purse and started digging. Keys. Lipstick. Compact. Wallet, containing a small amount of cash, a Drivers' License, and assorted bank and membership cards. Small pack of tissues. Cell phone. Yep. Pretty damn normal.
I looked back to the bed and the weird thing spread out there. Definitely not normal.
I hefted the purse. "Eddie, this just makes you look like a purse-snatcher." Nodding towards the bed. "That . . . well, that's straight out of a sci-fi or horror flick." I shook my head. "I don't know what the hell to think."
Eddie cleared his throat. "There's the pictures I took . . . "
"Get real, man. Those are so dark and grainy, they could be almost anything." I sighed. "Damn, Eddie. What do we do now?"
His eyes swiveled between the bed and me. Licking his lips, he said quietly, "I . . . I think we should try out the . . . suit."
I gave him my best 'are you out of your fucking mind' look. He ducked his head and tried again.
"I should . . . uh, try on the suit. You know, just to see if it works. On, uh . . . humans."
I spoke slowly and carefully, since it was clear to me that Eddie must have taken a wicked blow to the head on one of his falls out in the woods. "Are? You? Insane?" I pointed to the . . . thing . . . on the bed. "How do you know what that will do to you?"
He just grinned at me. "But Matt, I thought you didn't believe in aliens."
"What are you talking about? Of course I don't. There's no such thing as little green . . . " I corrected myself. "I mean . . . uh, gray . . . men."
"Got me . . . how?"
"'No aliens' means 'no alien tech'" which means that", he gestured at the suit, "is nothing more than a very realistic costume." Eddie laughed. "You can't have it both ways, Matt. So, yeah, I gotcha."
I mulled that over for a few seconds. So maybe his brains weren't scrambled after all. Or maybe I was just too tired to tell the difference. Either way, that still left one question unanswered.
"So . . . why do you want to put on the . . . suit?"
"Because if you do see it change me, then my story is real." He pointed at his computer. "Those pictures are real." He grinned. "Aliens are real."
So I stopped arguing. Eddie dropped the towel and moved to pick up the suit.
"Seriously, man. Getting all naked right in front of me?"
Eddie shook his hips, causing his wang to swing back and forth. "I got nothing to be ashamed of, dude."
"Couldn't you, like, do that in the bathroom, or something?"
"And have you claim I pulled a fast one behind a closed door? Not a chance, bud. I want you to see me get into this thing with your own eyes. Even if I do have to let everything hang out to do it."
"Okay, okay, I get the idea. Let's just hurry it up so I don't have to see your ugly butt any longer than necessary."
Eddie grinned and picked up the suit. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket, flipped to the video recorder app, and tapped the RECORD icon.
"What are you doing?"
"If you're so sure something unusual is going to happen, then we should document it, right?"
"Really, dude? First you freak at seeing me naked. Now you want to make a video?"
I waggled the phone. "Document? Or not?"
He sighed. "Put it away. Please?"
"Aye, aye, cap'n."
Eddie sat on the edge of the bed, spread open what appeared to a long slit in the back of the suit, and slid first one leg, and then the other, inside. After working his feet all the way in, he stood and pulled the suits' hips up over his own. Then he stopped, a sheepish look on his face.
"What's the problem?" I prompted. "Forget something?"
"Uh . . . not sure what to do with my . . . junk."
I snorted. "You've been trying to prove this is futuristic alien tech, right? Shouldn't it take care of something like that automatically?"
"Yeah . . . " He didn't look, or sound, convinced. " . . . I guess you're right."
He wriggled his arms into the suit. This left the head, with hair attached, hanging from his chest. He gave me a 'here goes nothing' look and started working his head into the suit.
I got up and walked over to lend a hand with whatever needed fastening on the back.
Eddie got his head fully enclosed, straightened his body, and flexed his arms and legs, probably to work out any areas that were binding.
Before I could figure out what type of fastener that long slit used, the edges started pulling together, all on their own.
He jumped, turned to me, and shouted, "Matt! What the fuck did you do?"
I had both hands in the air. "Nothing, man. It wasn't me. It just . . . it's just closing . . . all by itself!"
Eddie twisted, trying to reach his own back. "Don't just stand there. Stop it!"
"No way, man. I'm not touching that thing!"
As we argued, the opening continued to seal itself, starting at the bottom, near his tailbone, and quickly moving towards the top, near the base of his skull. I could only watch, dumbfounded, as the slit finished closing and disappeared completely. Then it happened.
Eddie . . . rippled.
I don't know how else to explain it. One second, I was looking at an Eddie who was wearing an ill-fitting girl costume, with deflated breasts and angles everywhere curves should be. Then he rippled, like he was just a reflection in some water someone had tossed a pebble into, and I was staring at Amanda Jenkins.
A very naked, very surprised Amanda Jenkins.
What followed involved large helpings of fear, panic, and confusion, with a considerable amount of shouting thrown in for good measure. I had just seen alien technology change my best friend into the towns hottest girl. And I suspect that, despite his convictions about Amanda in general, Eddie hadn't really believed this thing was going to work either.
Fortunately, Eddie had beer in the fridge. Got a problem? Apply cold beer. Is it a big problem? Just repeat as needed.
This had all the makings of a really, really big problem. Fortunately, Eddie had a lot of beer on hand. I just hoped it was enough.
After we had calmed down a bit, we decided the first order of business was to see if we could reverse the process. It took quite a bit of experimentation, not to mention another few rounds of beer, but we figured out the trick.
Eddie rippled, and once again looked like a guy wearing a bad costume. The slit magically opened, and he wasted no time prying his head free.
"Welcome back, man."
"Yeah . . . " He took several deep breaths. "That was . . . intense."
"You should've put money on this, you know."
"I was wrong. You were right. You could have cleaned up."
He shook his head. "Matt, do you realize what we have here?"
"Yeah, I know exactly what we have. A fucking scary-assed piece of alien tech, and any minute now the Men in Black are gonna bust down your door, confiscate it in the name of National Security, and throw us in a deep, dark hole just for knowing about it."
Eddie chuckled. "Well . . . besides that . . . "
"I'm coming up blank."
"Dude. We've got Amanda Jenkins!"
"No, we've got . . . hell, I don't know what we have."
"Think about it, man. Amanda doesn't exist. She was never real. There is no Amanda Jenkins, unless somebody puts on this suit. We literally have her all to ourselves. Any time we want." He stopped and flashed his biggest shit-eating grin.
"Is it?" Eddie pulled the head of the suit back over his own. It sealed and I saw that ripple effect again. Amanda Jenkins stood before me. She grinned and struck a pose. "Like what you see, sailor?"
I swallowed hard. Eddie might be a bit crazy now and then, but I had to admit he was right. This time. We did have Amanda Jenkins.
As long as one of us was willing to crawl into that weird suit.
Eddie continued to keep me off balance by feeling himself up.
"Hey, Matt, gimme a hand here."
"Wh . . . what?"
He motioned me closer. "Grab one of these titties, dude. Haven't you ever wanted to play with Amanda's sweater puppies?"
I felt my ears grow warm. "Well . . . uh, yeah, but . . . "
"Here's your chance, dude. Step right up. No cover, no minimum."
"Eddie . . . "
"What?" He didn't look up, engrossed in his . . . explorations.
He stopped what he was doing and raised his head. "What's the problem, Matt? It's not like there's any reason to hold back. I mean, it's not really her, right? It's just a suit."
"Yeah . . . " I paused to gather my thoughts. "That's the thing. It's not her. It's you. My best friend, Eddie. In a . . . ", I waved my hand to indicate his entire body, " . . . weird alien costume thing." Taking a deep breath, I blurted out, "I'm just not sure I can 'feel up' another guy, you know?"
He looked puzzled. "But they're not my breasts, dude. It's just a . . . costume . . . like you say." His expression turned thoughtful. "Although, now that I think about it, these babies do feel like they belong to me." He chuckled. "This really is one amazing suit."
The warmth was spreading to my face and neck. "Sorry, man, but I would probably need a lot more beer before I could cross that line."
Eddie chuckled. "Well, if that's all it takes, then I vote for more beers." He glanced down over himself. "Meanwhile, if it makes you more comfortable, I'm gonna peel myself outta this thing."
I watched as once again Amanda turned into just a suit, poorly fitted to Eddie's frame. He had some trouble wriggling out of it, and I . . . well, I didn't lift one finger to help him. Call me crazy, but just the thought of touching that thing sent cold shivers up and down my spine.
"Thanks for all your help, dude."
I didn't know what to say, so I just shrugged my shoulders.
Eddie held the suit up and peered into the opening. "Hmm . . . insides look like a damn fun-house mirror. Don't see no little tag with washing instruct . . . fucking hell!"
That last was brought on by a dim purple flash that came from inside the suit. I swear I never saw Eddie drop anything so fast. Maybe it was all the weirdness, maybe it was the beer, or maybe a little of both, but I found that very funny. I laughed.
"Some friend you are. That thing just tried to bite me!"
Which made me laugh all the harder. Once I got my breath back, I joked, "Or maybe it was cleaning itself."
He opened his mouth to slam me with a sarcastic come-back, then froze. A thoughtful look stole over his face. He nodded. "Damn, Matt, you may be right."
"Hey, man, I was just fooling around."
"No, no, think about it. This suit can make humans or aliens look like Amanda. Imagine how advanced that kind of science is. So how hard would it be for whoever created this to make it self-cleaning, too?"
I was talking to an empty room. Seconds later Eddie reappeared, holding a small yellow container.
"I want to test this idea of yours, so I got some mustard from the fridge."
"Riiiiight. Because mustard is the gold standard for testing the self-cleaning ability of alien body-changing suits . . . "
Eddie laughed. "Nine out of ten alien test-labs recommend it."
"Okay, wise guy. Let's see if this works."
He squeezed a tiny dot of bright yellow mustard on the inside surface of the suit. The seconds ticked by. I didn't realize I was holding my breath until that weird purple flash caused me to inhale sharply in surprise.
The mustard was gone.
Being the thorough investigators that we were, we also tried several other condiments, mud, soap, and even carbon black from a candle wick. All were disappeared by that merciless alien flash.
By this point, we were toasting every bout of successful testing with another round of beer. So when Eddie suggested that the suit should be safe for another person to try it, instead of being petrified, I was only a teensy bit nervous.
Boom. Boom. Boom. I was standing, naked, on top the only building in sight. A giant, easily sixty feet tall, was striding toward me, his footsteps shaking the ground, causing the very air to vibrate around me. I tried desperately to run, but my legs refused to obey. Closer and closer he came, each thudding footfall making the earth quake. A shadow fell over me as he raised one massive foot above my head.
I blinked, my eyelids crusted with sleepy sand. There was far too much light. My tongue had been replaced with the sole of a sewer workers boot. And that thudding noise was still echoing in my head.
Other problems added themselves to the list. I was pretty sure I wasn't in my own room, or bed, for that matter. There was someone snoring next to me, and I could not remember who that might be. And there was something partially blocking my vision and tickling my nose.
Since that last problem seemed the easiest to take care of first, I raised my hand to brush the offending object away. And got the shock of my life.
My hand was . . . different. As in, small, slender, and with long painted nails, different. And the offending object was really many, many objects. Golden strands, all connected to my pounding head.
Ooooh . . . noooo . . .
I lifted the blanket. Shit! I've got tits. Really, really, nice tits, I had to admit. But that was not what I was hoping to see. My hand found it's way down between my legs. Double-shit. Definitely not the plumbing I usually wake up with.
Speaking of plumbing, I felt the urgent need to use some. I tried sitting up carefully. Not carefully enough, I guess, as the room tilted crazily, and I nearly died. I steeled myself and tried again. Very slowly. Better - I only died a little bit that time. Now that I was sitting up I could see where the snores were coming from.
Ooooh . . . god . . .
I've woken up in Eddies bed.
I've got a massive hang-over.
I'm still wearing Amanda Jenkins body.
And Eddie is sleeping next to me.
How could this get any worse?
A patchwork of memories started to surface. Eddie and I drinking a lot of beer. Eddie talking me into giving the suit a try. The weird sensation as I slipped into the strangely slick interior of the suit. The even weirder sensation of that opening at the back swiftly closing on it's own, sealing me inside the alien device. The massive, gong-like vibration that swept through my entire being. Looking down and seeing Amanda's body instead of my own.
Other memories swirled around in my head, like flakes in a snow-globe. Hearing myself speak with Amanda's voice. Feeling how different my body now was. Eddie suggesting little experiments, that by themselves, seemed harmless, but kept leading to bigger experiments.
My stomach churned. I remembered. The ultimate experiment. The one that all the others built up to.
Sex. We had sex.
Eddie . . . fucked me.
Even worse . . . I seemed to remember, hmm . . . how should I put this . . . being an enthusiastic participant.
My stomach lurched. Big time. I moved as quickly as I could to the bathroom, which in my current state was no better than an arthritic ninety year old. I really wanted to slam the door, but that would have probably made my head explode, so that option was out. Of course, violently retching into the toilet was almost as bad.
I flushed, found some mouthwash, and gargled and rinsed until the acid taste was gone. That didn't remove the other bad taste, though. The one that made me sick and angry and ashamed all at the same time.
While I considered how to murder my best friend, my bladder reminded me why I originally woke up. Sitting there, ridding myself of all that used beer, I realized I had to get out of this damn suit.
I finished and cleaned myself up. Standing angled before the mirror, I bunched all that long hair in one hand and pulled it up. Then I pressed that mole on the back of my neck. Upward tension on the hair while pressing the mole. That was the release mechanism.
I tried again. And again.
The suit refused to cooperate.
Was it broken? Did it need new batteries? Was I doing something wrong? Just thinking about these things made my head hurt worse. And that wasn't the worst of it. I realized I was going to have to go out there, still wearing this goddamned Amanda body, and ask for his help.
I opened the door and crept over to the bed. Eddie was just waking. Before I could say anything he grinned and reached lazily for me.
"Hey, Amanda.  What a night, huh?"
I screamed at him. Well . . . whisper-screamed, and even that just about blew the top off my skull. "Eddie, you lousy shit. What the hell did you do? I can't get out of this damn thing!"
He gave me a sleep-fogged stare. "Amanda . . . ?"
I managed to overcome my alcohol-induced misery long enough to focus a scorching bazillion watts of angry laser glare at him.
He didn't burst into flame, to my intense regret, but I guess that was enough to burn away the sleep fog. "Oh, shit . . . uh, Matt. Why are you still wearing that suit?. He leered at me. "Not that it doesn't look damn good on you . . . "
I swear, if I had not been having my own near-death experience, I would have strangled him with my bare hands right then. Maybe he could read my thoughts. Or at least the murderous expression on my face, because his eyes sobered instantly.
"Uh, sorry man. You know me. Always kidding around." He licked his lips nervously and eyeballed my obviously female state. "Um . . . seriously . . . why are you still in that thing? I figured you'd be out of it by now."
I crossed my arms under my breasts and fixed him with an angry glare. "Because I can't get out."
"What the fuck did you do, Eddie? The damn thing won't open. I've tried and tried, but nothing happens."
"Yeah, well, so is a suit that makes me look like a hot chick. Wanna try again?"
Eddie sat up in bed, fell back quietly cursing his pounding head, then made a much slower attempt. I could tell he didn't feel any better than I did. Once on his feet, he slowly lifted my hair and pressed on that mole. Several times. His luck was no better than mine.
Eddie and I sat at the kitchen table, popping aspirin and swilling hot, black coffee. While both were helping to ease my killer hangover, neither was effective against my other problem. Which was how to kill my best friend without getting caught. Cuz no way was I going to prison looking like this.
Eddie looked as unhappy as I felt. "I don't know what else to do, man. This thing didn't come with an instruction manual."
I waved dismissively. "Yeah, well, to be honest, you didn't pour all those beers down my throat."
"True, man. I don't think I've ever seen you drink so much."
"That still doesn't get you off the hook for the other thing."
"What other . . . ooooh . . . that other thing." He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. "I still can't believe I took things that far. I guess I had way too much to drink last night, too."
"Yeah, well, like I said, still on the hook for that. And payback is gonna be the stuff that gives nightmares bad dreams."
"Before I start looking over my shoulder, we have another problem to deal with."
"Sorry, man. Guess I'm having trouble getting past the first problem, which is . . . I'M STILL STUCK IN THIS GODDAMNED ALIEN PIECE- OF-SHIT BODY-CHANGER THING!" I grabbed my throbbing head. "Ouch . . . ouch . . . ouch . . . "
Eddie winced at my pain and softly said, "Look, apparently Amanda was supposed to disappear last night. But since you're stuck . . . as her . . . that didn't happen."
I muttered, "Thanks for that keen insight, Captain Obvious.", under my breath.
He ignored me and went on. "The problem is, someone did effectively disappear last night, and that was Matt Carlyle."
"I assume there's a point to this rambling?"
"The point, Captain Snarky, is that until we can get you out of that suit, you will have to be Amanda Jenkins."
"Again, stating the obvious."
"No, you're not getting it. You are going to have to take over her life. Live in her place. Work at her job. Amanda's life needs to continue as though nothing has happened."
"Are you out of your beer-soaked mind? What about my life? Matt Carlyle can't just vanish."
Eddie looked at the floor, then back at me. "Sorry, Matt, but that's exactly what has happened. You can't continue your life looking like that. And we need to come up with a good cover story for your absence. Something to keep folks from asking questions until we can get your Matt body back."
I just stared at my friend. "You gotta be shittin' me."
"If you have a better plan, I'm all ears."
"Yeah, well . . . " Shit. The thing was, I didn't have any plan, except to get my ass out of this broken alien contraption. And I had no idea how to make that happen.
Eddie drove me to where Amanda had left her car, a used but clean Mini-Cooper, at the edge of Thornapples' woods. We used my car to get there. Phase One of Eddie's plan was in motion.
Eddie took my car to the train station and stashed it in long term parking. I followed and gave him a lift back to his place. Then I made my way over to Amanda's apartment alone. I had really wanted Eddie to come with me, not knowing exactly what to expect, but he felt it was better we not be seen together any more than necessary. I could see the logic in that, but was still nervous about entering what was effectively the alien's lair all by myself.
Her key opened the door. The light switch was where I expected it to be. My first terrified glance around the place was . . . a surprise. Everything looked . . . normal. Normal furniture, normal carpeting, even a few cheap landscapes hanging on the walls. No alien devices or futuristic machinery lying about. I realized I had been holding my breath, and let it out in a chuckle. Of course it looked normal. She had to have visitors sometimes, right? She wouldn't leave things out that said, 'Hey, I'm an alien from Betelgeuse IV'. That would just be stupid.
I closed the door and started to explore. First was a large, L-shaped space, with the living room occupying the large end, the kitchenette the small end, and the dining area at the corner. The rectangle enclosed by the 'L' contained the bedroom and bathroom. Quick peeks into cabinets and closets showed nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, maybe, just maybe, staying here wouldn't be so scary after all.
While in the bedroom I stopped before the mirror and took stock. I was wearing an over-sized sweatshirt over a large set of old coveralls Eddie had lying around. It was the best we could do in a pinch. The clothes Amanda had been wearing last night were destroyed out in the woods, and what I had worn to Eddie's place wouldn't fit Amanda's curves. I had a pair of Eddie's flip-flops on my feet. They were far too big, but worked better than any of his shoes. The really weird part was how good Amanda looked while wearing ill-fitting hand-me-downs.
Make that how good I looked. Guess I really need to stop thinking of Amanda in the third person, and start thinking of myself as Amanda, at least for the time being. As long as I'm wearing this suit, I am Amanda, and there's no telling how long it will be until I can get out of this thing.
Speaking of getting out, no harm in trying again, right? Step one, tug hair upwards. Step two, press on mole.
My shoulders slumped and I sighed. Still stuck. I glanced in the mirror again. May as well see if there's something more . . . suitable . . . to wear in her closet. Hell, guess it's my closet now.
Hmm. Quite a selection of Earthly duds for an alien impostor. I guess she had to look the part, after all. Let's see . . . this light blue pullover looks good. And these Amanda-sized flip-flops are definitely a step in the right direction.
After digging through the dresser drawers I found a bra, some clean panties and a pair of cut-off jeans.
The bra was a bit of a struggle, until I stopped thinking about it, which was odd. Everything else was a no-brainer. Catching a sideways glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized my hair was a mess. There was a brush on the dresser and I picked it up.
At some point I realized I was in the middle of applying makeup. That's when everything came to a screeching halt. I couldn't remember where to go from here. Or how I got to 'here' in the first place. Was I having black-outs? As my mind tried to sort out that puzzle, I noticed something weird. My hands were back at work on my face.
Okay, I get it. At least I think I do. Somehow this 'suit' knows what to do, even if I don't. With that in mind, I let my thoughts drift until my hands were done. The results surprised me. She looked gorgeous. Hell, make that, I looked gorgeous.
What the hell? Was Amanda expecting someone? I know I wasn't. I gave myself a critical glance in the mirror. Yep, perfect.
At the door I peeked through the spy-eye. A pretty brunette, with an even prettier smile, was standing there.
"Amanda. It's me, Beverly. May I come in?"
Shit. I didn't have much choice. She had to see a shadow fall over the spy-eye, so I couldn't just pretend no one was here.
I opened the door and she sauntered in. Sheesh. Talk about sex in motion. Did I look like that when I walked?
She stopped and looked around. "I see things haven't changed much here." She turned to me. "How've you been, dear?"
I had no idea who she was, or how to answer her, so I sidestepped. "Can I get you something? A drink, perhaps?"
"Do you have any Diet Coke?"
I turned toward the kitchenette. "Let me check." I rummaged through the fridge, found what I was looking for, and turned around.
She was three feet away, holding a smartphone out. No . . . she was pointing it at me. How did she get so close without me hearing? And why point a phone at me? Oh . . . shit. She's one of . . . them. I had a sinking feeling that 'phone' was about to make me disappear in a purple flash.
I slowly set the can on the table and raised my open hands to shoulder height. "You . . . you're one of . . . them, aren't you?"
"And you're a human, wearing one of our discarded collection devices. My um . . . multi-tool . . . confirms it."
"This." She waggled the phone.
I sagged against the refrigerator. "Multi-tool. It's not a blaster. You're not going to shoot me?"
She laughed. "Blaster? Well, it can be used as a weapon. But no, I'm not going to shoot you. I'm here to investigate a protocol failure and take remedial action, if necessary."
"Yes. A random scan with our long range sensors alerted us that a collection device and a multi-tool that were scheduled for destruction were still operational."
I was still confused. "Okay, I get the multi-tool thing that looks like a smartphone. But what the hell is this collection device you keep talking about?"
She tilted her head. "You don't know?" Waving her hand at me, she said, "You're wearing it."
I guess I'd had too many surprises thrown at me. All I could think to say was, "Huh?"
Beverly nodded at me. "The suit that makes you look like Amanda Jenkins. That's the collection device."
I sagged heavily into a chair. Beverly sat down across from me.
I tugged at the skin of my arm. "This suit is an amazing disguise, but why do you keep calling it a collection device?"
She smiled. "It's an extremely attractive disguise, is it not?"
"Yesssss . . . but what's that got . . . "
"If you wish to catch something, you need to use bait that the prey finds attractive, yes?"
My mind was whirling. Amanda was attractive. So that meant . . . men were the prey?
"You're collecting men?"
She grinned. "Oh, no. Something much, much smaller."
It took a few seconds for the implication to sink in. Amanda having so many . . . trysts . . . and always with different men. I looked down at my abdomen. Me and Eddie . . . last night. Had I performed a . . . collection? The very thought was making me ill.
When I raised my eyes Beverly was smiling at me. "Now do you understand?"
I had so many questions, but all I could mange to get out was, "But . . . why?"
She leaned back. "We are a very old race, a mature one, if you will. We passed over all the pitfalls a young race faces many millennia ago. Eventually we reached a peak of technological development that left few challenges before us. We turned toward helping other, younger races, but in ways that would not interfere with their own unique path toward maturity. This help takes many different forms, one of which is to collect and stockpile a diverse . . . um . . . library . . . of genetic material from each living planet we encounter."
I looked down at myself again. "Let's say that I . . . collected . . . some genetic material. What then?"
Beverly got up and walked around to where I was sitting. Kneeling before me, she asked, "May I show you?"
I nodded nervously. "I guess."
She gently slid my blouse upwards. Placing her fingertips on either side of my navel, she pressed gently in and to the sides. I saw a small silvery sphere, perhaps half an inch in diameter, peek out. She maintained pressure and the sphere slid outward, revealing itself to be a cylinder about one and a half inches long, with rounded ends. She lowered a hand to catch the cylinder as it dropped.
"Is that . . . ?"
"Yes. My multi-tool indicated that you had made one collection last night. That material is now safe inside this stasis capsule."
"But . . . how . . . "
She smiled. "The collection device takes care of that automatically. Was your navel feeling a bit sore this morning?"
"Yesss . . . "
"That is the signal that the stasis capsule is ready. You may then extract it just as I've shown you." She smiled. "In case you're worried, the collection device has the capacity to create and store multiple capsules if you find it necessary to collect many samples in a short period of time."
I must have blanched at the thought of sex with many men, because she was immediately concerned. "Are you alright?" She glanced down at her multi-tool. "Oh, I see. I missed that earlier. You were a human male before donning the collection device." She become puzzled. "Are you not attracted to men? Why else would you risk putting on a female-type collection device?"
I gave her a brief rundown on how much alcohol was involved in the events that led to my current predicament.
She frowned. "So this was . . . an accident?"
"Yes . . . and no. But more importantly, can you get me out of this thing? I've tried and tried and nothing happens."
She studied her multi-tool for what seemed like an eternity, then raised her eyes to mine and said quietly, "I'm sorry, but that is no longer possible. You see, the human collection devices, due to their unique construction, have an . . . affinity . . . for human DNA. If donned by a human, it only takes about an hour for the device to begin fusing with the wearer. We do not have to worry about this condition, because our genetic material is so different from yours."
When I opened my eyes, I was lying on the sofa, and Beverly was sitting in the armchair across from me.
She smiled. "I see you've recovered. I guess that was quite a shock, with me blurting things out like that. I'm very sorry."
I sat up slowly. "Yeah, well, guess I wouldn't be in this situation if I hadn't got stupid drunk and put this damn suit on."
Beverly grinned uncertainly.
I cleared my throat. "So . . . earlier . . . when you said this suit . . . bonded . . . to me, what does that mean, exactly? Is it stuck to me? Can't it be peeled off somehow?"
She looked uncertain. "How do I explain this?" After pausing for several seconds, she continued. "The collection device is not merely a object, like a piece of clothing. It's really an exceptionally sophisticated machine, to the point where it qualifies as an organism in it's own right."
"You mean . . . it's alive?"
"In a way, yes." When she saw my look of alarm, she hurried on. "Not as a sentient being, of course.. Her voice lowered. "Artificial intelligence - that's another hurdle your race has yet to face."
"What's this have to do with my problem?"
"Well, to put it simply, one organism, that's you, has been inserted into another vastly more complicated organism, the collection device." She hesitated. "I know this sounds . . . terrible . . . but you've been . . . assimilated."
I couldn't keep the horror out of my voice. "A . . . assimilated?"
"Yes." She was speaking so quietly I could barely hear her. "The collection device has . . . incorporated you into itself. The two of you are now one organism. Nothing in our science is capable of separating you - not without killing you both."
This is where I passed out for the second time.
I opened my eyes to see Beverly holding her blouse up with one hand while pushing that silvery capsule into her navel with the other. It sank swiftly out of sight, her navel closing behind it. Maybe it was the hangover, maybe I wasn't fully awake yet, but I swear I saw a faint green glow under her skin in that area, which disappeared after a few seconds.
As she pushed her blouse back into place, she noticed I was watching. "Oh. You're awake. I guess you saw what I was doing?"
I rubbed my eyes. "To tell the truth, Beverly, at this point I'm ready to believe seven impossible things." I yawned. "Did I really just see you shove that capsule into your belly button, and your stomach glow green?"
She chuckled. "Yes. You see, there are different types of suits. What I'm wearing is a transfer device. My task is to accept stasis capsules from collection devices and send them to . . . let's call it a central collection point . . . where they are cataloged and properly stored."
"Why couldn't you just build the transfer device into the collection device?"
"Well, getting the calibration properly balanced between the two proved especially difficult, even for us."
"And that was bad?"Beverly blushed. "Occasionally, when conditions were just right, the entire donor would be . . . transferred, instead of just the sample." Her voice dropped. "Not only was this embarrassing for us, it often resulted in the confusion and panic of the subject. Also, we then had to transport them back, usually to some deserted, out of the way location."
"Oh." Then the full implications of what she was saying sunk in. "OH! Holy . . . uh, just out of curiosity, how large an object can you . . . transfer?"
Another chuckle. "Well, the portal sphincter is very flexible, so you might be surprised. In fact, in an extreme situation, I can transport myself back to . . . um . . . safety. Strictly a one-time emergency event, though, because it absolutely ruins the transfer device. Even our technology has trouble with concepts like devices that can swallow themselves."
"So . . . if you really have to, you can dive into your belly button and escape from this world."
A nod. "Something like that."
An odd thought pushed itself forward. "Collection devices, transfer devices, travel between star systems - these are all very costly things, right? Just to acquire semen samples?"
"Oh, no. We collect female gametes also . . . "
"Still . . . "
" . . . from all creatures, great and small."
"Perhaps I was unclear earlier. Our task here is to . . . how show I put this . . . archive random samplings of all life on your world."
"All intelligent races face several . . . let's call them milestones . . . during their growth as a species. Failing any one of these means either a major setback to a more primitive society, or in the worst cases, total extinction of the species. Our work here is a . . . safety net, if you will . . . in case the worst should occur."
I swallowed. "You're . . . kidding, right?"
"I'm sorry, Amanda, but your race is very young, and is currently still struggling to deal with key issues like planetary overpopulation and nuclear power. There are other . . . hurdles . . . to come, such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum physics-based devices, and a few others too far off to think about."
"That sounds pretty bleak.. Another thought popped into my head. "Why can't you help us? You've already passed these milestones, so . . . "
Beverly shook her head. "The human race must stand on it's own. Yes, we could help. Some of you would thank us. Many of you would resent that help. Most important of all, you would not grow as a species."
Beverly announced that it was time for her to go. As I walked her to the door, a peculiar thought crossed my mind.
"I have an odd question . . . "
"What can you tell me about cattle mutilations?"
"Yeah . . . years ago, there were many news articles about cattle being found surgically dissected, organs missing, that sort of thing."
Beverly's face went dark and she muttered, "Damn subcontractors . . . "
"I'm sorry. What was that?"
She grimaced. "Sadly, a mistake on our part. We hired a younger race to help with some of the collecting. They . . . took short cuts, which drew attention to our operations. We terminated their contract, after exercising the penalty clause."
"Penalty cla . . . no, I don't want to know."
I saw a ghost of a smile on Beverly's face. "I couldn't tell you anyway." She paused. "I almost forgot, one more thing." Pulling her smartphone, er, multi-tool from her purse, she tapped away, pointed it at me, then tapped once more. I felt a subsonic vibration pass through my entire being.
"W . . . what was that?"
"I strengthened your collection device's Amanda personality. It should make settling into her life easier for you."
"Wait, what . . . what the hell? This damn thing's already stolen my body. Now it's gonna take over my mind, too?"
"No, no. You misunderstand. All collection devices employ a human personality emulator - a helper for the being wearing the device so they will not stand out as alien. In your case, this personality emulator can assist in your adaption to Amanda's life, so I strengthened it's influence."
"It won't control me?"
"You are always in control. The emulator merely fills in the gaps. It helps your reactions to be more natural. You can always override it if you desire."
"That . . . doesn't sound too bad . . . "
"It's not. Trust me." Her expression grew wistful. "I wish I could disable the collection functions and give you full female reproductive capability, but the collection devices were never built with that purpose in mind. I'm sorry, but your condition will always be that of a hybrid, or mutant, organism. A sterile one at that. I believe your race terms such creatures 'mules', do they not?"I just gave her a wan smile and said, "That's all right." How does a guy trapped in an alien disguise that makes him look female explain to an alien how wrong being able to get pregnant sounds? "Oh, yes. I swapped out your multi-tool for an ordinary smartphone while you were passed out the last time. Can't have you walking around with alien tech now, can we?"
It took everything I had to keep from screaming that I was now permanently stuck inside some very serious alien technology.
As she went out the door she threw back over her shoulder, "I'll be back to handle any samples you collect."
Yeah. Like that's going to happen.
Beverly has been back. Many times.
The Amanda personality is most definitely heterosexual, and stronger than I expected. Oh, I can fight it. It's just . . . becoming less and less important to me, I guess.
I'm no longer Matt Carlyle. I never will be again. Plus, the longer I spend in this body, the more natural it seems. Oh, I'll never forget my life as Matt, but . . . I'm truly Amanda now.
Funny thing. Turns out I really enjoy it. Being Amanda, that is.
I don't see Eddie much any more. I really wanted to tell him everything Beverly revealed to me, but felt a strong compulsion not to. Probably a safeguard built into the Amanda personality. He did hit on me a few times, once he realized that Matt was really gone and Amanda was here to stay.
I turned him down, of course.
I've already collected his sample.
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