Topiary Genetics: Part 1

Topiary: noun
The art or practice of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes.
Topiary Genetics:
A privately held research group thought to do significant business
with the United States Defense Department.

At times like this Hailey liked to pretend she was Morpheus from the old Matrix movies. In a way, she really was offering a choice that was just as momentous as the choice of Morpheus' blue or red pill. There was little difference except she never dressed in leather. Well not when meeting anyone professionally anyway. According to the information on her tablet the man she wanted to contact should be in the middle of his regular routine. Mr. Martin Green was nothing if not a creature of habit. Home by six from his job at the accounting firm where he was one of the senior managers, unless it was tax season. He would eat and be browsing the internet by seven. Online Hailey knew he was a much different person from what the people who thought that they knew him would recognize. He was careful not to reveal personal information online. Indeed it had taken the cooperation of a secret national surveillance group within the NSA and a very sophisticated algorithm to tag him as a candidate for the Topiary Genetics study.

Hailey made her way to the front door of Mr. Green's neat brick home trying to calm her nerves. Initial contact was always a touchy time. It is not every day that someone showed up at your front door telling you they knew your innermost secret and what's more they could make it come true. But... and here was the really tricky part they would disappear forever and they would have to trust Hailey and the company she worked for. She hoped that this would not be one of those times when the person decided they were being blackmailed and became violent. She hated hurting people.

Hailey took a calming breath and rang the bell. Soon a man opened the door. He looked like he was in his late fifties or early sixties. He was a little shorter than average with thinning brown hair that was going gray.

"Yes? Can I help you?" the man said. He smiled at her. He had a pleasant voice and the kind of face that looked like he smiled and laughed a lot.

"Hello, Mr. Green. My name is Hailey Benton and I represent Topiary Genetics. You came up as someone that fits the profile as a perfect candidate for our latest round of research. I would like a few minutes of your time to tell you about it."

"I'm really not interested..."

"I will give you a hundred dollars for fifteen minutes of your time," Hailey said cutting him off before he could finish giving her the brush off. "Cash." She flashed the bill with Benjamin Franklin's portrait that she had palmed before leaving the car. The contact team had tried lots of things but nothing else had been as successful as the offer of cash for listening to a short sales pitch.

Martin appeared to be skeptical but could apparently not find a catch in the offer other than the loss of his time. One of his favorite authors had posted a continuation of her latest story and he was anxious to read it but for a hundred bucks he could put it off. "Fine, make your pitch."

"Could we step inside? This isn't the kind of thing either of us probably wants to be blabbering on about in front of your neighbors. I promise that you won't regret it."

"Come inside then. Pardon the mess. I don't usually have company." Inside Martin lead her through the living room which was clean enough but had a basket of socks that looked like they were waiting to be folded on the couch and some books on the coffee table, into the kitchen where the dinner dishes were in the sink. By no means was this the messiest home Hailey had visited on this assignment. After setting down at the table across from Mr. Green, Hailey slid the hundred across the table.

"I just need you to sign here on my pad to affirm that you have received the money and that you will not disclose the contents of our conversation today with anyone else. It is a pretty standard NDA."

After Martin scanned through the NDA he signed without hesitation. He just wanted the quick cash then he would get back to his life. What could this blond twenty-something woman have to say that he would want to tell any of his acquaintances anyway?

"Great. Now that the formalities are out of the way I can tell you that my company, Topiary Genetics is refining a cellular rejuvenation process. We are at the point where we have been granted the right to begin a large scale clinical trial. We are recruiting men and women that fit the criteria laid out by out psychology team. People who can mentally handle looking and feeling much younger."

"People who can mentally handle looking and feeling much younger." Martin Repeated. "So , everyone over forty? I think I would have heard about something like this," Martin said. "I follow the news. I have never heard anything like this and I know I have never heard of Topiary Genetics or whatever the company is."

"People usually say something like this," Hailey said. "This all began as a secret project some years ago to re-grow lost limbs. After a series of discoveries the project was expanded. Topiary Genetics is a private company and has only one client, the United States government."

"Fine, let's say I believe you. What makes me such a good fit?"

"As I said the process is at the point where we can begin larger scale human trials. To date we have only been able to rejuvenate people singly or in smaller groups. So far we have used it on women up to 93 years old with great results. Our oldest male study participant was in his late eighties. The catch, if you want to call it that is that male or female every person to undergo our process to date has not only become much younger they have all become women. For many men this would be a flaw. For the right men it might be seen as a feature. We think you are one of those men."

"That is quite an assumption."

"Oh, please! Mr. Green, we work with the part of the government that collects data on everything. Even your service provider knows what web sites you go to if they care to find out. Can we just stipulate that you feel that your privacy has been violated and move on? The time I bought is running short."

"Fine," Martin said in a tight voice. "Please continue."

"I am not here to embarrass you sir. I am here because we think you have some undiagnosed gender dysphoria which would make you amenable to our offer. You are in good health for your age with no implanted devices. Also you have no close connections. You could make the transition to a new female identity with a minimum of fuss. Your wife died in three years ago in an auto accident. Your two children live hundreds of miles away and neither has children. They love you and would undoubtedly miss you but our information is..." Hailey paged through the information on her tablet to find the fact she knew was there. "You talk with them once every few weeks via phone. Occasionally communicate via various social media but have little personal interaction. The last time you saw either of them was a visit to your oldest son last Christmas."

"My life sounds really crappy when you put it like that."

She knew that she had his interest now. He wasn't throwing up needless objections. He had probably decided there was no point after she had revealed that she had his life at her fingertips. Sometimes they protested the legality of her having that amount of private information. She had an impressive legal opinion to flash in that event, the thirty six pages of legalese could be boiled down to 'good luck trying to do anything about it because this is all secret and you will be crushed if push comes to shove,' She had only needed to show it once. Demonstrated practicality was a major selection factor in their algorithm and most people realized that whether or not they chose to join the study there was nothing to gain by protesting the violation of privacy that her visit represented.

"I wouldn't say that your life is bad, Mr. Green. Rather that you are in a comfortable rut. What I am here to offer you is not comfort but an adventure. A new life as the girl which you should have been born. I am proof that this plan works. I was once a man like you, an army ranger in fact. I was lucky that my own deep secrets were not as well hidden as I had thought. My left arm and leg were damaged in an explosion and had to be amputated. Once I was stable someone stopped by my bed at the VA the day that they had planned to fit me with my first prosthetic leg. She had a very similar offer. In my case I had nothing to live for so I took it without hesitation. That day the old me died and I began the process of becoming the women you see now."

"What if after hearing the details I say I am not interested."

"Then I go on to the next person on my list and you abide by the NDA. No one would believe you if you tried to sell your story. Also if you were that foolish you must realize that your life would soon be ruined. Tax audits. Being added to the no fly list, involuntary commitment, etc. The group that we are partnered with is serious about secrecy.

"Okay. Good to know."

"That was not a threat. More like me passing along good advice. Like, don't walk through a den of hungry lions wrapped in a blanket made of meat."

"A what?'

"Never mind. You get the point."

"What I don't understand is why you are only recruiting men. Wouldn't just women be easier?"

"We recruit equal numbers of both men and women. That's what the Big Brains want. I'm told that it is important for the science to progress that we have both sexes represented."

"Fair enough. So what happens if I say yes?

"Assuming you agree to be part of the study you would be given a secure website with an exhaustive questionnaire to complete our profile. Then one of our psychologists would interview you here at your home. If they feel that you would be stable after the transition you would be given a date and time to be someplace. After that some kind of accident would happen and Martin green would be dead. Later the new you emerges and are placed in an appropriate school. Everything will be completely paid for by the study.

"Like college? Can I choose what school?"

"We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. Let me walk you through everything from the top..."

***

The room phone rang with his 3:30 a.m. wake up call. This was Martin's last chance to back out of the deal. A bus would be at the front door of the hotel in a half an hour to take him to a different future than he had ever thought possible. Once he was on the bus there would be no turning back. This day had been all he could think about since the young woman had shown up at his house a few weeks ago. She knew things about him he had never told anyone about. Then she had made an offer that he had never dreamed possible. He would not back out now.

He quickly got ready then went down to check out. There were many other men checking out as well. He assumed that they were also taking the bus. Like him they were mostly in late middle age or even older with a couple of others that looked like they might be in their late twenties. The story if anyone asked was that they were on a two week long guided fishing tour that would take them to several lakes and rivers.

No one was talking much this early in the morning which Martin found to be comforting. He had always been rather uncomfortable with new people. Frankly he had always been uncomfortable with himself as well. Anyway he was still tired from the short night.

The bus driver soon came in holding a sign saying 'Fishing Tour' to collect the men. They shuffled out and loaded their luggage and equipment into the storage compartment of the motor coach covered in over-sized graphics of fish. Soon they were on their way. Their destination was not a lake though, instead the bus soon pulled up to the local federal office building. The area was as deserted as the downtown of a small city ever gets.

An army officer boarded the bus. "Please put your wallets, watches, jewelry and any other personally identifiable items in the storage bags the driver is handing out. Please leave them in your seats before continuing into the building. Once inside proceed into the stairwell and descend to the bottom then follow the signs to the briefing room."

***

Martin looked around once they got into the room. It looked like a college lecture hall. There were three levels of desk seating arranged in a semicircle facing a projection screen and a podium. The officer shut and locked the door behind them.

The military man began speaking, "Okay everyone, grab a seat. The project representative Hailey Benton will be here momentarily. I am Major Tom Williams. I will now remind you that from this point forward you are part of a top secret project and will be subject to harsh penalties should you improperly divulge anything, to anyone... ever." He then walked to the back of the room and took a position in front of the door.

A side door behind the podium opened and a young looking woman entered the room. "Good morning everyone," she began. "It is nice to see you all again. I am glad that you all got on the bus. When I recruited each of you I had hoped that you would be brave enough to be here today. I can now tell you much more of the story than I was able to during our earlier conversations.

"As you know I work for Topiary Genetics Corporation. A private partner with the Department of Defense. We have developed a process that has the potential to someday cure almost any malady or mishap, provided that the patient is not too far gone when we start. You all will be receiving the fifth generation treatment. In our interviews I shared with many of you that I am a recipient of the third generation process so I understand what you are about to endure. The process involves reverting much of your cellular mass to stem cells through our proprietary process and then instructing those cells to form new, rejuvenated tissue and organs.

"One challenge that we face is that all reverted tissue has two X chromosomes. We are looking into introducing hormones early in the process, or provide some other trigger to generate the Y chromosome in other experiments. That is outside of the scope of what you will be involved. We hope to someday soon have that kind of control. For now though our techniques for grooming ones genome to eliminate various health issues are seen as too promising to wait for the gender selectivity part of the project to catch up. We have the green light to proceed provided that we have a pool of suitable volunteers." Hailey smiled at them. "Volunteers just like all of you.

"If the Topiary Genetics project only turns out women why not just use women as test subjects, you may ask? The answer is that we are doing that as well. You will be meeting those women later. You are only one group that is scheduled to go through the process. There is another all male group and two that are exclusively women. You will all be brought together next summer for the intensive conditioning portion of the study.

"You each were chosen because you met our specific needs. You are in fair health. You are all mature adults. You do not have any prosthetic devices which would need to be surgically removed. You have a rather distinctive electronic footprint including visits to certain fiction sites indicating a willingness to consider this offer. You each have affirmed through various methods of inquiry that you all would have been just as happy to have been born women, but for whatever reason did not pursue available methods of achieving that goal. None of you are overly burdened by close relationships. You generally get along with the people in your lives. And most importantly from our point of view, you will not be overly missed.

"This is the timeline," she said bringing up a graphic on the wall screen. "Today we will complete your paperwork and transport you to our facility at an undisclosed location. For the next five weeks you will each receive three different shots twice a day. This is the most difficult part of the process to endure. The shots are prepaid your body for the process of reverting your cells. By the end of week three the discomfort that you will be experiencing will become almost unbearable. Be assured that the staff will do all that they can to keep you comfortable during this time. You will not die though you may wish to do so.

"After the fifth week you will each be placed in a tank we call the metamorphosis chamber. The chamber is designed to keep you alive and protect the structure of your brain from drastic changes during your body's reformation. You will not be conscious for the next eight weeks. During this time we will to snip out any defects that have been discovered in your DNA and replace the bad sections with good. Then your new body will rebuild itself to conform to the new DNA instructions. Following your metamorphosis you will have a month of bed rest while your body is induced to begin maturation, or puberty. You will be kept asleep during most of this phase. After you are all reliably awake and alert, you will all undergo four months of physical therapy, and instruction on how to interface with society in your new gender. We have found there is an unavoidable need to reestablish neural pathways for all of your motor skills. You will need to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, and write and everything else. You each already have all of the skills needed to function so recovery will be a matter of weeks not years as can be the case with a brain injury. Your teeth hair and nails will grow in at a much faster than normal rate during this time as well due to lingering effects of the rejuvenation process. After that it is on to another location for the baseline testing phase. We will then continue to monitor your progress for the next few years."

Hailey continued, "As mentioned, the process will revert your physiological age to sometime between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. We are trying for an age roughly between fifteen and seventeen. You and the other groups that are receiving this generation of treatment will provide the data needed to fine tune our understanding of the mechanism that determines starting age.

"Initially you will find your appearance startling. You will not have much hair, or any teeth. Do not be alarmed this is part of the process. You will look like normal girls by the time we transport you to summer camp. On the positive side your skin will be as perfect as a baby's skin with no environmental damage."

The next slide showed group of buildings. "We will move you out to this picturesque location as soon as you are all strong enough. Here you will meet all of the other study participants and undergo ten weeks of physical and cultural conditioning. Not only will we be building your bodies we will be grounding you in everything people of your new age should know about.

The slide changed again showing an aerial shot of an old public high school. "We have established the Sutton Academy for orphaned 'unadoptable' older girls based on the boarding school model. We also have established a sister school for a control group of normal girls. We are very proud of these facilities. Aside from being a good cover story, we will be helping hundreds of girls who would otherwise not have a chance for a good education and a stable life."

"This is your school - your home," she said gesturing to the image. "We have purchased this unused school building and converted it for our needs. You will each participate in physical training in the morning followed by a full load of high school college prep classes. We will be measuring project participants against our other school and all of you against the general population. Collecting data on your progress is vital to the project and we will expect all of you to uphold your part of the agreement. Upon successful completion of the program, you will receive a grant sufficient to cover tuition and fees at almost any university that accepts you. Now I will take questions and answer what I am able," Hailey finished.

A man behind Martin asked, "Will we have any say about what we look like?"

Hailey smiled, "I expected this one. I asked it myself not so long ago. You will not have much say in the final outcome. Essentially you are going to look like one of your own relatives. However we have seen that as genetic issues are fixed the end result has tended to turn out better than expected. There is a large body of evidence that beauty is an indicator of health and fertility. Each of you will be extremely healthy. As our scientists go through your DNA they will replace any of 5300 identified undesirable sequences. They will attempt to take some of your personal requests into consideration. However you will never be informed about which changes have been implemented. There is a questionnaire that you will fill out later which will ask for your preferences on different things such as hair color. There is some overlap between this and the pnline psych evaluation but please answer every question thoroughly because this information goes to the genetics group. You may also be interviewed by one of our staff at some point. That level of direction is something that will be marketable in the long run and has not been available to study volunteers before now.

"To sum it all up, I am a product of the third generation of the process. I have neither nearsightedness nor my family's predisposition to get diabetes. While I am no supermodel, I think I turned out well. Again, physical beauty is an indicator of health. All of you will be at least as healthy as I am, so at minimum you will be a pretty version of yourself as a teen.." Martin thought to himself that Hailey was not stretching the truth he would be quite pleased with the results.

"What about all of our things? I had two houses, what will happen to my stuff?" asked a deep voiced older man from across the room.

"You were told that participation in this project would result in the public death of your old identity. That life is gone. Your things will be dispersed according to your will or to your next of kin if you had no will. Secrecy about a workable process that can restore youth has been deemed vital to national security. See the Major if you think your wealth is more important than what we are offering."

"Why didn't you just recruit transsexuals?" asked a small white haired man.

"As I mentioned before, part of the reason you were all chosen was that none of you have any implanted devices. No artificial hips or pacemakers or breast augmentation. Many trans people have breast augmentations. Even those who don't often are using various hormonal therapies by the time they reach our minimum target age. We recruit based on limiting factors, anything which would complicate our data sets has to be excluded from this phase of testing. Someday I hope this process will be available to anyone. Heaven knows our current process would be well received by transwomen. For now though we are offering it to you."

"Is this process going to affect my memory?" asked Martin when it was his turn.

"You will probably not remember much that happens after the next few days. If you're like me you will have a memory of pain, nausea and boredom. Some people experience uncontrollable itching. Then you will wake up in your new body feeling frustrated that you can't speak properly. As far as long term memory goes you will unavoidably lose some of your current memories as your brain changes along with the rest of your body. You will almost certainly remember who you have been and all of the things that are central to your being. How much and what kinds of memory are one of the areas on which we will be doing further testing."

An old and wrinkled man was next. "Just how many people are going to be with us at this school?"

"Assuming that none of you die from now until then, there will be about 240 students roughly spread over four grade levels." Hailey said.

After a few more questions that Martin felt had been covered adequately in the presentation, major Tom opened the door and wheeled in a cart of bagels, coffee, and juice. "I know that it has been a long morning so let's break for some breakfast and then we can go over your in processing paperwork..."

***

The questionnaire Hailey mentioned was almost 100 pages long. It took Martin until lunch time to finish it. Everything from personal physical preferences to questions about his earliest childhood memories was asked. For Martin the most interesting section was at the end 'personal preferences' it was fun. For him this section boiled down to what his expectations and desires were.

Finally there was a list of 2,000 names. These were the most frequently used girls' names for the groups new 'birth year'. The men were asked to choose their top five preferred names with the disclaimer that these were not guaranteed to be in their final identity packet.

When they were finished all of the men were allowed to go across the hall to an improvised lunch room where boxed lunches were provided. This was the first time that Martin felt like talking to any of the others.

Martin grabbed a box lunch and a bottle of water. He sat down at a table nearby that had a few open seats.

"Hi, I am Frank," said the man across from him. Frank was the guy worried about his property. "We were just talking about the setup here. I mean this is some real cloak and dagger stuff. Cover stories, sneaking into a government building before anyone comes to work. I bet they hustle us out after dark too."

"Kinda tough to hide fifty old guys. I wonder what is going to happen to us. Officially I mean." The chubby bearded guy beside Martin said while chewing his sandwich. "I bet they blow up the bus and then blame it on terrorists."

Major Tom was sitting at a nearby table overheard the comment. "After lunch we will all find out on the news. You all have a unique opportunity that most others never get. You are going to find out what people really thought of you. Also there are sixty of you."

The conversation continued with various speculations about the future. Everyone seemed optimistic. Martin was happier than he had felt in years. He was excited for a fresh start. Getting the chance to do everything over with the advantage of already having made a lifetime worth of mistakes would be fun.

***

At the same time Hailey was sitting in a conference room on the top floor of the building having the same boxed lunch with the CEO of Topiary Genetics Simon Graves, and representatives of the projects government sponsors.

"I understand how far you are putting your neck out for us General Richardson, especially since you just took over the program from General Willis." Simon was saying to General Rodney Richardson who was sitting across from him. "You don't really have a down side here though. Let's say you don't find your super recruits in this batch. It is our first large scale try. At minimum the DOD, or whoever you really work for, gets some excellent data on the potential of the process and NIH," he nodded to Dr. Helen Madden the middle aged woman in a red pants suit sitting across from Hailey, "gets a large body of data on the effects optimum nutrition and physical activity have on the development of young women."

Rodney replied, "What about the expense. I have seen the numbers and this is going to cost the taxpayers a pretty penny. I can see some areas where changes need to be made in order to align this program to national needs. I will find ways to get positive results from this boondoggle. There is a second star in the future for me as long as you and these sexual deviants don't ruin my chances."

"It is not much of an expense considering what Topiary Genetics has already demonstrated through its previous process recipients," Simon said, nodding to Hailey. "We have already brought the cost down by more than three million per client. Think of the applications that might be developed from spin-offs of the process technology. Soldiers not doomed to life on disability because they may be able to receive new eyes or limbs. New organs grown with no chance of rejection. Rodney this is an easy sell. You just need to look at the big picture."

General Richardson said, "It's just these men -- it's unnatural. What kind of man would even want this? It is hard to respect them."

Simon lightly kicked Hailey in the ankle to let her know that she should keep quiet. "Did you know that our project facilitator was once an Army Ranger as well as one our five third generation process recipients?" He said, gesturing again at Hailey. "Back when that young man came to our program he was missing an arm and a leg due to a roadside bomb. He also had a desire to be a woman that he had thought was secret. We found his secret and his suitability for the project through then colonel Willis. Rodney, this desire is more common than you may think. The generic term for this spectrum of conditions is gender dysphoria. Hailey is much happier now than she ever was as a man, and through Topiary Genetics she is still able to serve her country as a reserve captain as well as the project facilitator. She will be continuing on with those men to help them successfully adapt. If you can keep your preconceptions in check for a few years, I think we will eventually get the male to male process working. With luck we will have everything figured out in time for you to have your own second chance at youth. Think of what you could do with that opportunity."

Hailey's phone rang with the tone she had reserved for this one call. She answered and spoke briefly to the caller. "Excuse me that was Tom. The bus has been successfully destroyed. News crews are already on the way. I need to go down and tell the guys that they are all dead. It should get them focused nicely."

***

After lunch the men were summoned back to the presentation room. The wall projector was showing a live helicopter shot of something burning on a highway. The sound was off but as the last man was taking his seat Hailey started speaking.

"As of a few minutes ago you are all dead. Let's listen to the report."

"...Fiery collision between a tour bus and a truck hauling motor fuel. Residents are advised to avoid the area. Carol, do we know anything about the accident? "

The view changed to a reporter standing well down the road from the burning vehicles. "Well Randy, it appears that the fuel truck veered across the center line, striking the tour bus head on. I had a chance to ask a fire department spokesman about injuries and was told there were no survivors. Back to you Randy."

The men all were engrossed in the coverage of their deaths. They all agreed that a body burned beyond recognition was a good cover. Major Tom let them know that the next of kin would be getting boxes of ashes back after a suitable time for the bodies to be 'identified' by the coroner who was apparently in on the scheme.

By 11:30 pm. everyone was sick of the being in the basement and getting sleepy. It had been a long day. Some relatives had been found for comments and the coverage had become rather emotional. It was a big deal locally. After a couple of hours they had turned it off. It was not pleasant to continually hear about ones death.

Hailey came into the room where they had been watching a rerun of some detective show.
"Hey all, listen up. In ten minutes the first van will arrive to take you to the center. When it arrives Major Tom will text me and we will leave moving at a quick walk. Once you are on the way you will be given a sedative to help you sleep. It has been a long day and to be honest the less you know about the exact location of the Topiary Genetics facility the better our friends in the D.O.D. will feel.

***


Thank you for reading this story. I hope you enjoy it.

I originally posted this on FM years ago titled Genehancement but I was never very happy with it. The story has since been removed at my request. I have been rewriting the story and have chosen to go a new and much less dark direction for second half of the story.

I expect there to be at least 15-20 parts to this story with more possible if it seems people enjoy my work.



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