Today was the culmination of the worst year of my life. In fact it's almost a year to the day that I came home early to get everything ready to wine and dine my wife to celebrate our anniversary. Only to find her in bed with my accountant! The cold smile on her lips as she saw me in the doorway broke my heart.
Over the next few months things pretty much fell apart. The divorce was messy and I still don't understand how even though she was the one to destroy our marriage, she was the one to walk away with almost everything.
Today was the final straw. Somehow her clever lawyers and my back-stabbing accountant have now even managed to take my business out from under me! I have just discovered that my 'friendly' bank has been systematically taking title to all my assets under the guise of supporting me in difficult times. Yeh, right!
As I sat in the bank, it took all my willpower not to shove that sanctimonious little erk of a manager right through the door! But in the end I realised it wasn't worth it. Though when I saw that cocky smirk go across his face as I turned to leave, I......
Do you know what? I am not going to think about them anymore. There is nothing else they can do to me now. So stuff 'em!
As I got back to the car I thought I would give Sam a call. He is a good mate and a sensible guy. We'll grab a pub lunch and will rain down curses and maledictions on the witch and her cronies over a pint... or two.
I thought it best to take the long way so I could clear my head a bit before seeing Sam. It was actually rather nice just taking it slow and enjoying the drive, a luxury I don't normally allow myself.
It also gave me a chance to sort through in my mind what the witch hadn't managed to get her hands on. At least I still have over 20 years experience as an Engineer and Project Manager, and thankfully I somehow managed to keep my old flat from before we got married. And thanks to Sam hiding it, I even managed to keep my precious bike. I knew she would try and take that just out of spite.
I was lost in thought when I first noticed it from quite a way back in my mirror, a yellow Audi jinxing in and out of the traffic. Whoever was driving was certainly in a hurry and was snatching every opportunity to get past. Eventually it got to me and I moved over to give some room. I looked across at the driver as it flew past to see a young woman at the wheel with a very determined look on her face.
We soon came to Long Hill, and as the road opened up into a dual carriageway I saw the Audi start the long climb. I could see by the way she was moving that she had her high heel pushed firmly into the carpet.
Then an almighty cloud of white smoke belched out of the exhaust! I have spent most of my life around cars and I recognised what it was immediately. That's the head gasket blown.
Thankfully the road was clear and she managed to pull into the lay-by. So I knew she was safe at least. I almost just drove on by but thought, "Oh, why not. What else am I going to do today" and pulled off the road and parked.
I am glad I did. As I walked over to her she looked terrified! It was now very obvious it was the head gasket and I explained she wasn't going anywhere.
Then she started to panic, she absolutely had to be at an appointment. I allowed myself a wry smile as I remembered that feeling from when I first started out (hark at me, I sound like an old man).
She told me where she was going and it wasn't very far so I offered to take her. I gave Sam a quick call to let him know I was going to be late and we set off.
As we drove, I managed to glean from Elizabeth that she was working on something genuinely important and time-critical. So it looks like her panic may have been justified after all? But she was very careful not to let too much slip, which of course intrigued me and got my curiosity going.
We swung through the gates and up the drive of a rather grand Manor House. Elizabeth explained that it was now being run as a very excusive, women only "Health Club and Clinic" And yes, she actually did air quotes as she said it too.
As we rolled up to the main entrance Elizabeth surprised me by asking if I would wait until after her meeting as she really wanted to talk to me about something and that I would find it "interesting". Hmm, more air quotes. Well, I suppose it's better than winking.
Having parked, as we walked towards the main entrance I realised that when Elizabeth said women only, she really meant it. There were signs everywhere, in every language conceivable (I think one may have actually been Klingon) that all said, No Men Allowed!
As we approached a large pair of ornate doors I noticed a small annex to the side of the main entrance. Through which I was ushered, with some haste I might add. I was just about to make a comment when I was greeted by a very cute young lady and escorted in. WOW! Whoever designed this place, knew how to design for men.
As I scanned around the room there was every sort of drink imaginable racked up on the walls, and in the corner was another lovely young lady standing behind a bar. Then I noticed other rooms leading off to the sides, in one I could see snooker and pool tables, another had a large home cinema setup, and through some privacy screens what I suspect is a fully equipped spa and gym.
I decided it would have been rude not to take them up on their kind offer of hospitality and made myself (very) comfortable. As I sat there savouring a rather nice cognac I thought, "Not such a bad day after all".
I had rather lost track of time and was absorbed in a conversation with a man who had come to collect his wife. She had been staying here for a week. I couldn't quite bring myself to ask how much that had cost.
I felt a light tap on my shoulder and turned to see Elizabeth. "There is somebody I would like you to meet", as she gestured for me to follow her to a side room. I wasn't sure who I was expecting to see as I stepped inside, but whoever my imagination had in mind, it could not have been more wrong.
I was beginning to wonder if it wasn't just being female, but also being drop dead gorgeous was a requirement for working here?
Elizabeth introduced Felicity, the Director of the Clinic. Having gone through the usual pleasantries she then handed me a non disclosure contract and asked me to sign it. Now I am no stranger to these and have written a few myself, but this was the first time I was handed one before there was even a hint of the subject. I was even more surprised as I started to read through it. There were clauses and references to things I have never heard of before, what is all this about? But I couldn't see anything too objectionable so decided to sign and handed it back.
Felicity gave a polite nod and said, "Elizabeth has been saying some very nice things about you, you seem to have made quite an impression. I realise you don't understand what this is all about yet but would ask that you bear with us for a little longer? Perhaps you could you give us a rundown of your work experience and skills please?"
Now this was a game I knew well. "Would a CV, copies of certification and professional references be helpful?"
I could see she was a little surprised, "If you have them, yes please".
Glancing down at my phone, "May I have a printer ID and I will run off copy for you". (Experience has taught me that having a full set of documentation to hand at all times can be very effective in closing a deal, and with modern phones it's not exactly difficult.)
Elizabeth stepped over to the wall and slid back a panel, exposing a printer already running off my CV. "Nice touch" I thought. I sat quietly as they both read through the documents. I had to smile as I saw them periodically glance at each other and a few surprised looks flash across their faces.
With a graceful and feminine motion, Felicity placed the paperwork on the table. "It seems Elizabeth had every reason to be impressed. We have a somewhat awkward situation which we think you may be able to help us with, if you are interested?"
I just nodded. I know that at this stage you learn far more by saying little and listening very carefully.
Felicity gave a little nod and a knowing smile. She clearly has played this game before too.
"You see, the reason why we had to call an urgent meeting, and why it was so important that Elizabeth be here today, is that a senior member of staff has been apprehended while trying to abscond with copies of some of our most sensitive technical and corporate data. Which unfortunately has also left us with no one on site with the necessary experience and expertise to provide technical cover for their duties while we resolve matters."
"For Elizabeth to have met you on her way here has been a most fortuitous coincidence. To find someone with the necessary experience would have been difficult at the best of times, but to find someone so quickly would be next to impossible. Obviously there is much to discuss, but is this something that might be of interest to you?"
I surprised myself with my level of self control as I calmly said, "Yes, I would like to know more. I find this rather intriguing, and I can make myself available immediately. Assuming we can come to an agreement of course."
Felicity gave me that knowing smile again, "I am sure that will not be a problem. I will let Elizabeth show you more of what we do here and we can continue our discussion when you are finished."
Thinking I was going to get a sneak look inside the clinic I was a little disappointed when we went to the cinema room which was quietly playing a cartoon.
Having closed the doors, Elizabeth took me on a virtual guided tour and I can honestly say that I had never seen anything like it. Everything was top-of-the-line and there was equipment that I truly have no idea what it does. All most impressive. But I thought it was time that I had better mention the elephant in the room. I am not female, and I won't be able to do anything if I can't even go near the building.
Elizabeth then put on the screen a panoramic view of the most amazing workshop I have ever seen. It could only be described as an engineers paradise. The screen then clicked to an external shot, and as it panned another gorgeous woman came into view. Elizabeth reached for a microphone, "Hi Anna, could you give us a wave please?"
I never thought overalls could look sexy, but she certainly managed it.
Elizabeth brought me back to the moment by explaining that the workshop is separate to the main building and that Anna would be my assistant. She was very experienced and between the two of us it should be possible to cope with most eventualities within the Clinic.
Having shown me around (all be it virtually) we went back to see Felicity. As we sat down, I took a deep breath and said that I had doubts about the practicalities of not actually being able to go into the clinic. But I could see they were in a bind and I would be happy to give temporary cover until they could find someone more suitable.
Felicity's answer was short and sweet. "Can you start tomorrow?"
And so I did.
I had to come in via a side entrance and go straight into a secluded car park right next to the workshop. It was even more impressive in reality than on the screen. I had only been there a few minutes when Anna breezed in. And breezed is exactly the right word to describe her too, She is such a happy soul. I think I am going to like it here.
I was surprised how quickly I settled in and got on top of things. Though in large part it was because of how well everything had been set up. Every piece of equipment in the building was wi-fi enabled, including the building itself! At the click of a button I could tell if a water dispenser was running low, to the [Classified] needing a reboot, to a squeaky hinge on a door. You may have heard the phrase Intelligent Building? Well this one has a PHD.
Anna is proving to be an absolute treasure. She is technically very able, and is easy to work with too. The funny thing is, although I was brought in to provide technical support I actually seem to spend more of my time being a listening ear to everybody. But I am certainly not complaining. Having the attention of so many beautiful women is a hardship I think I can bear. It's a tough job, but man's gotta do, etc....
After a while I was beginning to suspect that there was a part of the Clinic off-the-grid. At first I just shrugged it off as probably being storage or possibly an area that hadn't been developed yet. But when I asked Anna about it, she became a little coy and said she didn't know anything about it.
I was almost at the point of taking my suspicions further. When during one of Elizabeth's regular visits, she said that she had been talking to Felicity and they had something they wanted to discuss with me. She lead me to a small office that sits adjacent to the clinic where Felicity was already waiting for us.
In her usual direct manor she got straight to the point. It seems my suspicions were right, there was something else going on here. But it was even more incredible than I could have imagined. They had developed a technology that could actually re-sculpt a body. Fat removal, muscle toning, injury repair and even age regeneration!
All development so far has been for female clients, but now they want to develop a similar range of treatments for male clients too. And would I be interested in helping with their first live trial?
Considering the pounds I have been slowly accumulating these last few years, and although I try very hard to deny it, I am not as young as I was. So the decision was a bit of a no brainer.
After an interminable health & safety and disclaimer lecture, I was handed a box and told to go home.
Opening the box and a quick review of the instructions and it all seemed simple enough. [To be worn for ten hours, recommended overnight.] Well that makes sense. It's not as if you will actually be able to do much while wearing it.
Well, it's getting about bedtime. First things first, a trip to the loo for a pee. The last this I want is to be stuck inside the Body-Glove with a full bladder.
I had to put on what I can only describe as a thong. It looked far too small to accommodate my great manliness (Oi! Stop giggling). But apparently it's needed to tuck everything up and out of the way and protect it from the Activator Jell and Body-Glove.
After a great deal of tugging and squishing and kneading I got it on (I can still hear you sniggering). And much to my surprise, not only did it fit, I ended up with a smooth undercarriage that an Action Man doll would have been proud of.
What next? I now have to cover my whole body with Activator Jell. Well, jell is a polite way to describe it. Basically it's a sticky, slippery, semi-translucent pink slime, [With the pleasant fragrance of elderberries], at least that's what is says in the instructions. To me, it has a subtle whiff of damp dog and old trainers.
Finally comes the Body-Glove, which looks pretty much as the name suggests. Though as I took it out of the box I thought they had made a mistake. It looked like it was made for a child. But it is supposed to stretch, so tentatively I slipped in my foot and started pulling. Getting it on was even more of a struggle than that thong thing! But after a great deal of wriggling and tugging I was in.
I had just managed to get back to my bedroom when I felt a tingling. And then to my horror the Body-Glove started to tighten around me!
As I fell back onto the bed it felt as though I was being crushed as the Body-Glove constricted tighter and tighter!
It was getting to the point I was actually having trouble breathing!
I lay there totally immobile as my arms and legs seemed to fuse together and it felt as though I had just been vacuum packed. This is seriously scary!
A panic was rising in my chest. I am going to die here!
And then to my great relief the pressure began to ease and I could start to move again.
That was terrifying!
One thing is for sure, I am going to have to give some serious feedback on this. I realise this is still at the prototype stage, but you can't put paying customers through that!
Now it was obvious that things had settled down. With nothing else to do, I rolled over, got myself as comfortable as I could and went off to sleep.
In the morning, having checked I had been in the Body-Glove for the required ten hours, I stumbled my way to the bathroom. I had already put the adaptor over the shower head for the special solvent and so all I had to do was run the shower and step in.
It took a few minutes for the solvent to start to work but soon the Body-Glove began melting and sliding off me. It felt sooooo good to be out of that thing. As I carried on showering I noticed I was covered in a yellowish/grey gunk. I thought it was just the residue of the jell I had put on, but then I realised it was also what the Body-Glove had squeezed out of me! Eeew!
It took quite a while before I was sure I had cleaned off the last of the residue (yuck), but finally I stepped out of the shower. Towelling myself dry felt very strange though. Every inch of my skin felt incredibly sensitive as though I had a deep sunburn, but there was no actual pain. I seem to be covered with what I must assume was a protective membrane as there was a translucence to my skin and my complexion was now flawless.
It was when I came to get dressed that I became even more aware of just how sensitive my skin had become. As a man I don't really give that much thought to how things feel when I wear them. So this was a very different experience. And for the first time in my life I had become rather conscious of how my clothes felt on me.
I had never noticed how coarse so much of male clothing really is. I think I can see now why women appreciate silk and soft fabrics so much. I started wondering about being able to wear clothes that would actually feel nice rather than just be practical? When...
What?! Is that the time? I am running late! I had better get a wriggle on and off to work. They are going to want to know how things had gone and I definitely have some feedback for them.
All the way to work I was distracted by how everything felt so different. It was as though I could feel every stitch and seam, and I never noticed how hard and rough the arm rest in the car was before. But it was only when I started to walk from the car park to the workshop and had to keep pulling up my trousers I realised I had already shed a few inches. Result!
I gave Elizabeth a rundown on what had happened and after taking a ream of notes she thanked me and disappeared back into the Clinic.
It was almost a week later before I was given my next Body-Glove. I opened the box with trepidation. I really didn't fancy a re-run of last week but they said they had made adjustments. I am very relieved to say it was a lot better this time, and over the next couple of weeks it just became part of my routine. I still wouldn't call it a particularly pleasant experience, but it certainly is worth it.
The weight is now falling off me and I have started noticing other improvements too. My hair is thicker and darker, I have more energy and I am feeling fitter than I have in years. And those twinges and niggles that I hadn't really noticed were starting to creep in... have all gone. I don't know what they are going to be charging for this treatment, but it's worth every penny!
With hindsight I should have been more aware.
To a casual glance it was the same anonymous cardboard box that the other Body-Gloves had come in. The only telltale was that the barcode label had a white boarder rather than the usual blue, and the Body-Glove itself was a slightly different colour.
But it turns out that there was one VERY important difference with this Body-Glove.
Which I discovered when I came to taker my morning shower.
As the solvent started to dissolve the Body-Glove it felt as though I was being flailed alive!
Every drop of water felt like a jagged blade ripping at my flesh!
There was no protective membrane!
My skin was fully exposed and it was like every single nerve ending in my skin was being ripped apart!!
The agony was unbearable, I had to get out! Almost blinded by the pain I couldn't find the edge of the curtain. Somehow I was able to untangle myself, and I just managed to pick up my phone and call Elizabeth as I fell into unconsciousness.....
I awoke to the touch of somebody gently squeezing my wrist.
I opened my eyes and looked straight into Elizabeth's very concerned face. I was in a bed at the Clinic. My skin still felt raw but thankfully I was a lot more comfortable now.
Elizabeth said, "Are you ok? Oh we are so very sorry. We are still trying to work out how, but somehow you got one of the development prototypes. It was never meant to be used. You must have been in agony?"
Feeling very groggy I groaned, "Uhh.. you could say that. I have never felt pain like it. I am just so glad I managed to hold it together long enough to phone you."
I had come to know her well by now and recognised the look that meant she had something to say but couldn't quite bring herself to say it. Looking straight at her I said, "Ok... What is it?"
I could see her squirm as she tried to find the words. "Umm, uhh, well, it's like this. As you know, your Body-Gloves are from our prototype department. Each one is made specifically for you. So there aren't any spares, you see?.. and.. umm.. we couldn't just leave you with no protective membrane could we?.. So.. uhh.. we had to use a female Body-Glove."
She seemed to hold her breath while I worked out what that really meant.
I don't know if it was the anaesthetic still clogging my brain? I could tell by Elizabeth's demeanour that she had just told me something rather important, but I couldn't quite work out what it was?
I heard someone come into the room from behind me. As I rolled over to see Felicity walk in, I inadvertently pushed the bedding down a little. It was also at that exact same instant and with an almighty thunk I realised what Elizabeth was trying to tell me!
I am ashamed to admit it, I did panic a little.
Once Elizabeth and Felicity managed to calm me down again they explained that this was just temporary while my skin healed. Three weeks should do it.
WHAT? THREE WEEKS?!
I have always been a terrible patient and I hate hospitals, and being trapped in bed is almost a form of torture for me. I have only been awake a day and I am already sooooo bored! I argued that I still had a job to do and there are things I could take care of while I am stuck here. So they relented (a bit) and allowed me my old laptop. But looking down there was absolutely no ignoring my present appearance.
Perhaps it would be more interesting if I could actually feel something? But although they look good, my new chest bumps are basically just padding. But try as I might, every time I looked down I couldn't concentrate! (Weird that huh?)
When Felicity came by to visit sometime later I said, perhaps with a little more whine than I realised, "Why did you have to make me so, uhh, curvy? Apart from constantly getting in the way, I am a bloke and these things are really distracting, and my bum feels huge!"
By the look on her face I don't think she was impressed.
"Women have to deal with that sort of thing all the time, and they don't seem to have a problem. And it's not as if we had much choice. What we do isn't science fiction, we can't make body mass disappear at the stroke of an authors pen. Although you have lost a lot of weight, you are still quite large for a woman, so a more voluptuous Body-Glove was the only option. There are women who would be very happy to have a shape like yours. I think you should be more grateful!"
With that, she turned on her heels and strode out!
Oh, dear. She was definitely not impressed. Once she has calmed down, a little humble pie and an apology might be in order I think? Ok, so this feels a little strange, but it's not the end of the world and it will only be for a couple of weeks. Think I had better man-up and deal with this and stop with the whinging.
They say I can go home tonight. I was just getting myself ready when the nurse strode in. Offering me a glass of pale blue liquid she said, "Gargle with this for two minutes."
I looked at it with a degree of suspicion (I am learning you see), she started to get impatient.
"Well, get on with it. A full two minutes mind!"
Taking a deep breath I took a mouthful, head back and started gargling. It was a nice minty flavour. Counting the seconds on my phone, the screen seemed to go into slow-mo. I kept gargling. How can two minutes take so long?
It was when I handed the glass back to the nurse and to say thank you, my throat closed up and I couldn't speak!
Wide eyed I put my hand to my neck and silently gasped.
But before I could do anything else, the nurse handed me a small spray bottle and said, "You men are such babies, don't get so worried, your voice will be back in about an hour. We can't have you sounding all gruff looking like that. Spray this to the back of your throat once every hour until you finish the bottle and you will be fine".
As she turned and made her way to the door she said over her shoulder, "Go to the room as the end of the corridor and they will sort out something suitable for you to wear". And with that she left.
I managed to work out which room she meant, and after much fussing and preening they seemed satisfied. Overall the effect was quite convincing but when you look very closely you can see it's not entirely natural. Especially down below, which is completely featureless apart from a very small tube for me to pee out of.
But I cannot believe what they are making me wear! Now I know for sure Felicity is making a point. I tried to protest as best I could (no voice remember). But they weren't having any of it. Have they forgotten I am still a bloke in here?
Oh boy does it feel weird looking down and seeing this!
At least I managed to keep my watch. Apparently it's a thing for women to wear men's watches nowadays and so I was 'allowed'. To be honest, it's small consolation.
It was only when I got home I realised the obvious that none of my normal clothes are going to fit me. I was just about to text Elizabeth to see what she could suggest, when I remembered a box of my ex's clothes she hadn't collected.
The next morning I got myself ready. All things considered, I thought I had done ok. I even braved the idea of wearing some shoes with a bit of a heel. But the looks of disdain as I turned up were very noticeable. And to make sure I got the point, somehow they had even managed to snap a photo of me near the car park just after I had tripped in those ridiculous heels.
I have been forbidden to pick my own clothes. Perhaps... Just maybe... They might just have a point?
So I now have to report each morning to the Clinic and get my outfit and makeover for the day. I tried really hard to argue that I was still a guy under all this and not to go too girlie, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. It was when I looked down and saw the latest outfit they had chosen, I just said "Aww, come on, really?!"
Any illusions I had that I had any say in the matter were shattered when I was told in no uncertain terms to, "Stop moaning, and I should be thankful for all the help I was getting. And if I didn't start to behave they would tell Felicity!"
Realising I was beaten I decided to keep quiet. But I think they are enjoying this a little too much if you ask me. Eventually they did relent and gave me something more causal for when I was at home. But there really is no escaping these curves.
Once I came to accept the situation. It wasn't so bad. On the practical side, having the chance to move about freely in the Clinic made work a lot easier, and proved to be rather enlightening too. But realistically I also knew that I didn't make a particularly convincing woman and I was constantly being ribbed for moving and walking like a man. Which of course with my sense of humour I played into at every opportunity.
Well, today this temporary Body-Glove with all it's extra curves is coming off and I can get back to being me again. And although I wouldn't admit it to anybody, some of the last three weeks have actually been quite fun. Being accepted as one of the girls was (how can I put it?) "Interesting" and being able to wear some of the slinkier outfits and softer fabrics was almost erotic. I think I may actually miss that part a little.
But play time is over, time to get back to normality. It did feel a little strange being my own shape again though. It was also something of a shock when I came to put my own clothes back on to realise just how much weight I had now lost. I also couldn't help but notice that I seem to have retained some of the curves of that last Body-Glove. And, I can't quite explain how, but I just feel different.
It wasn't long and things were back to normal, including being stuck in the workshop with Anna out and about for most of the day. It does feel isolating so I particularly appreciate our morning ritual of Elizabeth popping in for a chat and a cuppa. It's nice to have a bit of company and it's a good routine for keeping on top of things in the Clinic too.
But today was different. Felicity had come with her. As is her way, she got straight down to business.
"You are of course aware that your original contract with us was a temporary one to provide technical cover and to help with the workshop and maintenance systems. Your efforts here have exceeded our expectations and your training of Anna has been such that we now intend to promote her to manage this department."
(Oh no. This is the thank you, but don't let the door catch your butt on the way out speech.)
"Elizabeth and I have been reviewing your CV and we note that you have other experience that we would like to take advantage of if you are interested?"
(Oh, now this I didn't expect.) I didn't say anything but gave a little nod.
"We have decided to bring forward the expansion of the Clinic and set up the facility to offer treatments to men. Your experience, though very painful, has proven to be invaluable. It has often been said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes. And in your case, this has been particularly true."
"You are in fact ideally qualified for the task we have in mind. You obviously now have a detailed knowledge of our systems and mode of operations. Which considering all other personnel in the Clinic are women, means you are unique, in that you are a man"
(Good grief! Where is this going?)
"It is sad to note, that even in today's supposedly enlightened times, there are still occasions where a woman in business is at a disadvantage. You however, can give us a distinct advantage. With your unique knowledge of our requirements together with your project management and technical experience, we hope we could call upon your services one more time?"
(Why do I get the feeling I am not going to like this?)
"Although the draft plans have been completed, we need someone who can negotiate the necessary commercial contracts, materials procurement, and sourcing of appropriate staff for the build. And to put it simply, you are the one person with the technical experience needed, and whom we could trust to put our interests first."
(And there's the kicker! They want me to set the whole thing up, but no mention of actually managing the project. Hmm, I see...) With a subdued note to my voice, "I will need to see the plans and specifications before I can make my decision, but I will certainly give it serious consideration."
I could see their disappointment, but I have no intention jumping in head first just because they have become my friends. Especially as it looks like there isn't a long term hook to go with the offer.
I was given all the information I needed before I went home and I spent the rest of the evening and the next day pouring over every detail. It is a complex build, but nothing I haven't dealt with before.
What I did notice was that a key part of the build can only be sourced in the UK from one company. A company I have previously had dealings with. The company itself is fine and they are actually very good at what the do. It's their Sales Director. I haven't met him personally, but he has a horrible reputation of being a misogynist and stitch-up merchant! And he would definitely want to get his claws on this project.
Felicity was right, they would have serious problems dealing with him. There is no way in clear conscience I could leave them to his mercies. I've had a great time here, but the very nature of contract work is that it's temporary, and I know that. At least I can leave knowing I have set them up properly and make sure I get the right people in to look after the project for them.
Apart from anything else, I have an idea which I would love to try. Mr. Sales Director also has a reputation for having a huge ego and is impressed by wealth and status. The idea of taking him down a peg or two amuses me greatly. This could actually be fun.
I thought we would have our meeting at the Savoy. Apart from being a great stage for our little drama, I know the Head Concierge from my old rugby days. Dave is a top bloke and I know he will be up for a little subterfuge.
I made sure I was there early and I got myself comfortable in one of the smaller lounge rooms. He turned up right on time and we got started on the pleasantries. Then as arranged, while we were chatting and enjoying a little tipple, Dave came in with the menus and asked, "Would his Lordship care the see the menu while you are waiting for your other guests?"
As I took the menu, "Sir, will be fine today. Thank you David".
He gave a polite nod, "Of course Sir?"
I allowed myself a private smile as I saw a glint in my guest's eye. I have him hooked!
Then right on cue, Felicity and Elizabeth arrived. Part of the plan was for them to dress up a bit and play with him and generally get him unsettled before I got on with negotiations. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but oh boy! As they breezed in, a hush fell over the room and every eye was upon them!
I introduced them as my staff who attend to the day-to-day running of the Clinic, with a casual nonchalance that this was just another day at the office and all my staff just happen to look as amazing as this. (Which actually isn't that far from the truth.) Playing the roll of loyal staff they mostly focussed on me, but gave him just enough attention to mess with his head. I was almost starting to feel sorry for him (almost).
I could see the unease starting to build in him, as the realisation that he was not the one in control began to really sink in. I then made the excuse that I had to make a private phone call, and with a subtle wink I left Elizabeth and Felicity to give him their full attention.
There is no other word for it, they were... magnificent!
Having worked their magic on him, they explained they had other duties to attend to and left. While he was still in a daze from their attentions, Dave escorted us to our table and I got down to work on negotiating the contract. By now he was so blinded by his own libido, ego and the chance of prestige, I think he would have almost paid us to get the contract. Let's just say that I managed to get a great deal.
But when we went to make a toast, I couldn't believe what I saw!
I closed my eyes and shook my head, and when I opened them again everything was back to normal. But I was really shaken and made my way to the cloakroom. Mostly to get some air and clear my head. But if I am honest, to check myself in a mirror too.
Of course, everything was normal. It was just a momentary hallucination. But I have NEVER had anything like that happen to me before! I am beginning to wonder if my three weeks being girlyfied has had more of an effect than I realised.
I went back to the table but I couldn't finish the meal. Basically, the job was now done. I was exhausted. And to be honest, I didn't want to spend anymore time in his company than absolutely necessary. So I politely made my excuses and left. In the taxi I texted Felicity to let her know it had gone well and I will fill her in on the details tomorrow.
It was a lovely bright morning as I drove to the Clinic, but as I turned into the drive I found myself thinking, "I am going to miss this place". There was no sign of Anna in the workshop so as per my usual routine I popped the kettle on. What I hadn't noticed was Felicity quietly sitting in my office, and I was startled when I heard "Tea for me please".
Having got a brew sorted for both of us I came and sat down. "You do make a lovely cup of tea" Felicity said.
Having taken a sip, "I know you must have wondered why we didn't ask for you to manage the build itself. It was our intention that once everything had been put in place and we had the opportunity to resolve a certain matter, we would then be able to ask if the position would be of interest to you."
She took a breath, "Unfortunately, we were not successful, and also our worst fears have been confirmed. We still have a serious security problem. Which basically leaves us with just one option."
(Oh, this is not going to be good.)
"Had the risks just been commercial, we may have decided to take precautions and still proceed. However, in the wrong hands our technology could be very dangerous, very dangerous indeed. And unless we can find a solution we have reluctantly decided that we will have to postpone the project, probably indefinitely."
(Knowing how Felicity is the master of understatement, even I was getting nervous.)
"Put simply, whoever managed the project would have to oversee the installation of very sensitive equipment and will need access to all the technical specifications and operational procedures. It is just too risky to bring someone in that we do not have the utmost confidence in."
I sat there for a few moments thinking over what she had just told me. "Ok, I take your point. But without wishing to be presumptuous, you have already given me access to much of this sensitive information, and by your own admission you considered me for the roll?"
Felicity sat there looking intently at me for an uncomfortably long time. "We didn't ask you as we knew what that would necessitate. You have already done more than we could have ever expected, we just didn't think we had the right to ask even more of you".
I wasn't sure whether to be offended or confused. I chose the latter. "But surely you know me well enough by now that I would do whatever I could to help? You have not just been my employer, we have become friends."
She gave me a sweet smile, "Yes my dear, we are friends, which is why we didn't think we could ask this of you. The problem is, because of the enhanced security systems and protocols we would now have to put in place, and that all sensitive data will have to be kept securely within the Clinic... The practical necessities are that the roll would have to be filled (she took a breath) by a woman."
I knew immediately she had been thinking about my three weeks en-femme. "But Felicity, playing at being female for a couple of weeks is one thing, especially as everybody knew what the situation was. Actually living as a woman for almost a year is something very different."
With an almost imperceptible sigh she said, "Yes, we realise that, and this was why we didn't ask you in the first place. As I said, we are preparing to suspend the project and I am not attempting to ask you now. I am just apprising you of the situation in recognition of the efforts and consideration you have extended to us."
I knew she was putting it very nicely and giving me a way out. But talk about a loaded question! Basically, she is saying that they are going to shelve the whole thing unless I pretend to be a woman for nine months!
I looked at her with my best stern face. "Felicity, you really can be a devious so-n-so sometimes".
She started to say, "No, I didn't mea..."
I put my hand on her arm, "Let me think about it, ok?"
I did think about it. I thought about it all week. The simple fact of the matter is that I am a middle-aged man. And if I am honest, getting a little set in my ways. Why am I even considering being transformed into a woman for nine months or more?
But every time I went to reach for the phone to tell them no, I hesitated.
Technically, I can do the job. They have become dear friends and I know I can trust them to support me with this. And if anyone can help me be a passable woman, they certainly could.
Ok, so I don't do it? What else am I going to do? I am not in a relationship at the moment, I don't have my business anymore, and the simple fact is that if I don't step forward there is nobody else they can turn to. So it basically boils down to, can I cope with having boobs for a while?
I sent a text to Felicity saying, [Ok].
I was told to go to an outbuilding in the grounds of the Clinic. As I poked my head around the door, the stroppy nurse who fed me that voice changing gargle was standing there. Before I had a chance to say anything she bruskly said, "Come with me."
It seems she was expecting me.
She motioned for me to follow her and led me to a back room. I say back room, anybody would think I had stepped onto a space ship! I stood there open mouthed. Then pointed, "I've seen something like this before. Wasn't there a sci-fi movie with..."
She waved her hand dismissively, "Pfft, cardboard, duct tape and special effects. It's a coincidence. Real science actually works". She turned away and busied herself with some controls and quietly started talking to herself, "I told them, I told them, but would they listen? No... mutter mutter mutter...)
I stood there looking around this incredible room with a growing nervousness, "Umm, so what's is it for?"
With barely concealed frustration she sighed, "It's a 3D scanner, we need to have your exact measurements as your Body-Shaper is a lot more sophisticated than a Body-Glove and it has be calibrated perfectly."
I was about to speak again when she said, "Remove all your clothes and get into the chamber. Lie down with your legs slightly apart and take hold of the handles you will see to your side."
She flicked a switch and with a soft hummm the cover slid back, then with a disdainful glance over her shoulder she promptly left.
I stood there feeling somewhat bemused, but then started to take my clothes off and laid them over a chair. Not wishing to stand there in the buff any longer than necessary I hopped up onto the bed. And sure enough, either side of where I was obviously expected to lay were two handles.
Having got myself comfortable I reached down and took hold of the grips. As soon as I did, what felt like an electrical charge coursed through my body and I was locked into position and completely unable to move!
I heard her voice from a speaker above my head, "Just relax, the neural damping field will hold you in position while you are being scanned. It will only take a few minutes."
A few minutes? Yeh, right! It felt like hours! Eventually I heard the click of power relays and my body went limp. It felt like all my muscles had been turned to jelly, and struggling to get off this infernal machine I was having great difficulty getting myself back on my feet.
The nurse with no name came back into the room and seemed oblivious to my difficulties. "We will have your tailored Body-Shaper ready for you in a few days." Then handing me a large tub of what looked like moisturising cream, "Until then, apply this lotion over your whole body each day after you shower."
And before I was able to say anything she just turned and left. It soon became apparent that I wasn't going to have anybody else come and explain what was going on, so I finished getting dressed and still feeling rather bemused, I quietly left.
It was Friday and I was just getting ready to leave for the weekend when I received a text. [Come to the R&D Lab immediately] I have to assume it was from little miss no-name. It certainly had her style.
I was bearly into the room when she told me to, "Get undressed and put on this robe, then go and lay on the table."
I didn't think it was possible, but she is even more tetchy today. Wonder if her yappy little dog left a present in her shoes this morning?
As I got undressed and into the robe I said, "So what is going on and what do you intend to do?"
With a theatrical sigh she said, "The Body-Shaper is a much more sophisticated system than the Body-Glove and has to be fitted with extreme accuracy which is only possible if you are anesthetised. And as you have (she waved her hand with barely hidden disgust) 'them', your testicles have to be tucked out of the way and a catheter inserted so that you will be able to urinate."
At which point she stabbed me in the arm with a syringe and I drifted into unconsciousness.
I don't know how long I was out for but considering how stiff I felt it must have been quite a while. I tried to open my eyes and to say something, but it felt as though my eyes and mouth had been taped shut.
As I stirred I felt someone put their hand on my shoulder and a voice say, "Don't worry, everything is fine. It's time for the outer sheath to be removed and reveal the new you."
I could feel myself being gently manhandled to my feet and I was slowly walked across the room. We stopped, and I was taken unawares as someone scooped me up off my feet and I was placed into what I soon realised was a bath as I heard the taps run.
The voice then said, "Just lay there and relax while the solvent dissolves the outer sheath. When you are ready you can finish off with a shower." And then I heard a door close.
I was feeing very disoriented and still hung over from the anaesthetic, when I felt a tingling slowly spread across my body as the solvent started to seep in. It didn't take long for it to do its job and I was soon wiping handfuls of the dissolving gunk off me. Having already spent three weeks with 'added padding' I wasn't too surprised to see how I looked, though the tingling was proving to be very distracting.
I pulled the plug on the bath, and as the sludge drained away I got the shower running. As I continued to rinse myself off the tingling became more intense and it was now becoming obvious that this was very different to what I had experienced with the Body-Glove.
My skin felt impossibly soft and it was like everything had been turned up to eleven! There was no pain or discomfort, but I could almost sense the very molecules in the air. With the lightest of touch I ran my fingertips across my skin, It was as if I could actually feel the tiny electrical pulses dance over the neurons of my nerve endings!
My sense of touch was getting so intense it was going into overload! I had to step out of the shower, it was just too much! I sat on the edge of the bath as motionless as I could, desperately willing everything to calm down. When thankfully everything started to settle again. It was as if my senses were going through a reset sequence. Which I later learned was exactly what it was doing.
As I sat there trying to gather myself I realised I was feeling cold and wrapped a towel around me. I expected to look female, but this was in a different league to the body-Glove.
Startled, I heard the door latch rattle and looked up.
It was the ever charming nurse no-name. "What are you doing sitting there? We need to make sure the Body-Shaper has taken properly. Come into the examination room, chop chop!"
Chop chop? Really? Who talks like that nowadays?
Feeling unsure on my feet I followed her into an adjoining room where I saw a rather strange examination table.
"Hop up" she said, pointing to the table.
So up I hopped. The next thing I knew she pulled out two attachments from the side of the table and my knees were in the air and my legs wide apart!
I tried to get myself comfortable when she slapped me on my leg and with a stern look told me to "Stop fidgeting!"
I don't think I have ever felt so embarrassed!
Then after more prodding and poking than I have ever had in my life, she finally seemed satisfied. As she stood back she said, "You'll do. Someone will be along in a little while to sort you out." And with that she left.
(With just a little effort, I think I could learn to really dislike to her.)
As it was, she had hardly left the room when a very pretty girl came and lead me to a room that looked like an amalgamation of sci-fi lab and beauty salon. Pride of place in the middle of the room was a chair surrounded by equipment and bottles and potions. Feeling decidedly nervous, that is where I was instructed to sit.
And then like a team of surgeons going into battle they went to work on every square millimetre of my body!
I don't know how long they worked on me but I had completely lost track of time. And then with a well practiced choreographed move, as one they all stepped back and smiled. Then one of the girls leant forward to turn a mirror around, "I guess you are dying to see?" she said.
I knew I was going to look different.
I knew I was going to look more female.
I wasn't prepared for what I saw!
There was still a trace of me in my reflection, but I looked so young, and there was no question of whether I could pass as female this time!
All at once the reality of what was happening hit me, and the realisation that this will be my face for the next nine months! I sat there stunned and speechless!
At which point, Elizabeth came into the room. She seemed almost as surprised as I was and sat beside me. "Let's get you something to wear and go somewhere more comfortable and we can chat."
From out of nowhere she produced what seemed to be a positively huge bra and a wonderfully soft cashmere top. After a little help from Elizabeth with the bra, I slipped on the top. As I looked down I couldn't help but wonder if the size of my attributes was a little dig referring back to my reaction the first time I sported a pair of these? Or perhaps they just like big boobs?
At least I felt more comfortable now, and as we sat down Elizabeth patted me on my arm and said, "I take it Mabel talked you through everything?"
"Mabel? I take it that's old Grumpy Britches name? No, she just mentioned that I couldn't just put the Body-Shaper on like a Body-Glove and I had to be fitted into this thing. Then she stabbed me in the arm with an anaesthetic."
Elizabeth looked cross, "I am sorry, she can be a little prickly with people she doesn't know. But then she can be so sweet sometimes. And there is no other word for it, she is brilliant. But she should still have done her job properly, I will have a talk with her."
She took a breath, "I don't understand all the technical terminology, but basically the Body-Shaper takes Body-Glove technology to a whole new level and it has fully integrated nano-technowhatsits". She said with a cheeky smile.
I gave her a grin, "I love it when you talk techno-babble. You haven't got a clue, but you make it sound so convincing".
With an imperious look she picked up a blank piece of paper, and then with a theatrical flourish she held it in front of her, "It says here that the wearer will experience a full range of sensations, including erogenous zones. The body-Shaper is designed to transmit and amplify sensations to the appropriate nerve endings on the wearers body."
She gave me a wink and a grin, "So your nipples will work this time".
I was already very self conscious, but as she said that I could feel myself warming up.
Elizabeth's eyes grew wide and she grinned, "You're blushing! I don't believe it, I can actually see you blushing!"
Which of course only made me grow even hotter! "Uhh, yeh, and that's not the only thing I can feel this time."
Her eyes grew even wider and he mouth dropped open, "REALLY? So you can feel down there too!"
By now I felt like you could cook toast on me, "Yup. From this angle I can't see too much, but while Grumpy Britches was having a poke around down there I could feel everything she was doing. So I am guessing it looks the part, just no cavity behind it."
Elizabeth just howled with laughter! And pretty soon I was laughing too. It was just what I needed. And once we had both calmed down again I felt so much better.
"So what are we going to call you?"
"I have been thinking about that and I thought Cathy had a nice ring to it?"
Elizabeth tilted her head, looked at me and smiled, "Yes, I can see you as a Cathy".
"Then Cathy it is."
We kept chatting for a while longer but with all the examinations done there didn't seem to be much point keeping me in so I was allowed home. I did feel more comfortable in my own surroundings, and as I relaxed on the couch and having poured a drink I said to myself, "Going to be an interesting nine months".
Although the build doesn't start for a few of weeks I am still going to the Clinic to get everything organised. And while I am there I can make a start on getting acclimatised to the new me too. Because one thing the accident did show up is that I have got some real work to do to be able to pass as female.
It was, and still is, painfully obvious I move like a man. Although I tried to make light of it last time, I knew I was a bit of a clod. This time however, for this whole thing to succeed I won't be able to get away with that. So I am getting comportment lessons and have been shown some exercises I need to practice to help loosen up my movements and to hold myself properly.
After a couple of days it was becoming obvious it wasn't going so well. I was in the middle of one of the exercises I was finding particularly difficult when Grumpy Britches breezed in and handed me what looked like an old iPod (though obviously it wasn't), and a pair of rather trick looking headphones.
"Use this, it should help with your exercises". And just as she turned to walk out again, she paused and handed me a small piece of paper, mumbled something and then left.
"Looks like Elizabeth's chat must have had some effect then?" I thought.
I was hoping for some instructions but it was basically just a technical sheet. But I was able to work out that it uses [Induction loop bio-resonance, combining subliminal audio interlinked with Theta wave feedback harmonics].
Yeh, well that helps (not!).
After another couple of reads, as far as I can work out the little gizmo is supposed to help with developing muscle memory and subconscious mannerisms. And to help me relax and move more gracefully and generally feel more in sync with my new appearance.
Almost straight away I noticed the exercises were getting a little easier and I was moving better. Perhaps Old Grumpy is as clever as Elizabeth says she is? But oh boy, is the headset uncomfortable!
I put up with headset for a couple of days but could only manage about fifteen minutes at a time as they were seriously uncomfortable. But I am suppose to be an engineer, so I had a good poke around and I could see it was the control unit that was the important bit. The headset was basically just an induction antenna and headphones. So, using some old earphones and antenna wire I had knocking about, I managed to cobble together a similar setup. It may not be quite as effective, but I can now wear it for longer as it's a lot more comfortable. Problem solved.
Although I could tell I was moving better and getting more at ease within myself. As soon as anybody else is around, all I can think about is not getting caught out. But unless I can learn to relax more, that's exactly what is going to happen. I just need to get more comfortable being out and about and in the company of other people.
There is a lovely park near where I live with a cafe in the middle, and a quiet stroll and a cuppa seemed a good idea. I sat on a bench just chilling and watching a young family happily picnic on the grass. The little girl noticed me watching, and then to my surprise and with the most innocent of smiles she came over and offered me a few of the wild flowers that she had picked.
I looked at the sight of my feminine hands holding this tiny bunch of flowers and I just froze. It's funny how such a small gesture can have such an impact. In all my years as a man, I have never had anything like that happen. I was dumbstruck!
Sad to say, in today's world, for a man on his own to be approached so openly and without a trace of fear or suspicion by a child just doesn't happen any more. It hadn't occurred to me just how much such caution has become the norm for men nowadays. I had become so focussed on how I was relating to other people, it hadn't occurred to me just how differently other people were going to relate to me.
It was something I have never seriously considered before. When out and about, men generally are just focused on the job in hand and going about their business. Apart from when occasionally something (or someone) catches our eye, we don't really pay that much attention to other people and people don't pay that much attention to us.
But women Are noticed. All the time. And are considered to be a lot more approachable too. Women really do live in a different world to men. I am beginning to get a clue just how different that world is.
It's been a couple of weeks now and thankfully I am not feeling so chronically self conscious whenever I go out. I am so pleased Felicity recommended this extra time to help me acclimatise before getting on with the build. I am still having to work on my makeup and fashion sense but everybody is being so supportive and I know they will take great delight in picking me up on any mistakes I make.
Elizabeth is really into photography and is always clicking away. She had the thought that it would be nice to take some photos of the grounds and the Clinic before it all changed. It was a lovely day and it made a nice excuse for a leisurely walk in the sunshine. As we strolled along chatting, it took me a little while to realise that I must be accidentally getting caught in quite a few of the shots.
"Umm, Elizabeth, let me know when you are taking a photo and I will get out of the way. You don't want me cluttering up your pictures?"
She just gave a knowing smile, "It's ok, I can Photoshop later" and kept clicking away.
The big day has come at last, this morning we get started on the build! I checked the forecast and it was going to be chilly, better wrap up then. I also knew I was going to have to organise a lot of people and make a start getting to know the crew. So I was more than a little nervous as I got myself ready. I appreciate now why my ex used to get tetchy when I kept trying to hurry her up. It really does take longer than you think.
A final check before I leave for the day. Not bad, not bad at all.
The next few days were a blur. Getting a new site up and running is always a manic time. That I knew and expected. What I didn't expect was the attitude I was getting from the workmen. I was aware that building sites are notorious for having a sexist atmosphere.
I... HAD... NO... IDEA!
I have never felt the need to be that way myself and as I was normally one of the guys in charge, those around me tended to follow my lead. So although I knew it went on it has never really registered with me before. But looking the way I do now and being on the receiving end it is impossible to ignore. It is almost making my job unworkable!
A further unexpected distraction is coming from the Body-Shaper. Every week or so it seems to go through some kind of re-set. It usually just means an item or two of clothing doesn't fit anymore and my skin becoming extra sensitive for a while, and then it would settle down again. This time my hair was the most obvious! Honestly, what am I supposed to do with this?
The trials of being a girl huh?
The situation on site just isn't working! I have tried being reasonable and it really isn't getting me anywhere. I had a conversation with Felicity about the problem. But I will admit, it wasn't as helpful as I had hoped.
Now, what was it she said? "Play to your strengths and you will find your own way. You are the one in charge, they just have to see that."
Ok, let me think. Play to my strengths? Hmm...
Oooo, I have an idea...
The size of driver's ego's is well renown. They swan around the site in their butch machinery and mud encrusted vehicles. Man's work! Which they generally take great delight in telling everybody. Even whispering the idea that a gurl could ever think of doing their job would create a wave of derision you would hear in the next county!
Now I knew we were getting four large deliveries on Monday. And I do mean large deliveries. Forty foot shipping containers to be precise. To make it more interesting I made sure they had to drop off at the far end of the site... threading through two blind corners... and they would have to reverse the whole way!
Monday morning, I made sure I was at the site entrance to sign in deliveries. I had 'accidentally' put on a top that had shrunk in the wash (oops, silly me, having a blonde moment) I had also 'accidentally' got all the work teams to come in early. So there was quite an audience milling around the entrance.
The first Artic arrived. Signing in the driver I made sure he got a good view from above, and sure enough the sexist comments started. That did stop though when I told him exactly who I was and where I expected him to drop off his delivery.
The colour drained from his face when he realised where he was going to have to reverse to. He started making excuses and wondered if there was somewhere nearer the entrance he could drop off?
I gave him a look of disdain (I had been practicing in the mirror all weekend) and dismissively said, "If you don't think you can do it I am sure I can find someone who can". Then turned, and started walking away.
Even lining the lorry up was a bit awkward, but to his credit he made a good start. But then he got to the first corner and things started going wrong. An audience was gathering and the more he tried, the more of a pickle he got into as he became increasingly flustered.
Eventually I couldn't take it any more. I went over and knocked on the door of his cab and calmly told him to take a breather and go to the canteen for a cuppa. By now he was in such a state he swung himself out of the cab without a murmur.
Of course, what he didn't expect was for me to jump up into the cab. And ignoring his protestations, I calmly engaged reverse and started manoeuvring this 40 foot Artic!
Taking it nice and slow, I made it all the way to the back of the site. Then with a final little flourish, I engaged the parking brake and stepped down from the cab.
I really wish I had a camera. As I started walking back to the site office, the look on everybody's face was a picture. Of course, what nobody knew was that I have been driving big trucks for years. I had already spent Sunday practicing in an identical rig and had set up hidden marker points at exactly the right spots. So taking it slow, it was just a matter of threading the needle.
But I hadn't finished with my little experiment. About an hour later the next delivery arrived.
Same routine as before. Sign in the delivery. Eyeball the cleavage. Sexist comments. Only this time, most of the guys on site were out watching and offering 'helpful hints' to the driver. Perhaps it was nerves of having such a vocal audience, but this driver didn't even get as far as the first one.
But he was just as stunned as I got in the cab and threaded the needle again! And as I engaged the parking brake and swung open the cab door, it was to a hearty round of applause (we are British after all).
Then an hour later the third delivery arrived. The word must have gotten out as this time there was no banter and the driver was looking decidedly nervous (good, that should make this easier). Also, the entire site and a whole bunch of people I didn't recognise were now watching and 'encouraging' him!
He did surprise me. He actually made it past the first corner but the heckling from his audience was clearly unnerving him and with shaking hands he stepped down and held the door open for me.
I threaded the needle again, and this time when I got out there was actual cheering!
But there was still one more delivery.
I made my way to the entrance as before, and actually had to push my way through the crowd. Even the staff from the Clinic had come down to watch. Only this time, the driver just got down from the cab and sheepishly handed me the keys.
And so to the sounds of "You go girl! Caaathy! Caaathy!" being chanted from the crowd, I threaded the needle one last time.
As I parked up, there was actual whooping and hollering! Never did I think I would see the day on a British building site! I was trying to play it cool but couldn't help but allow myself a smirk as I walked back to the site office.
Then I caught sight of Felicity out of the corner of my eye as she elegantly clapped her hands and gave me a knowing nod and smile. From that day on things were a lot better. It was still a battle, but one which I now had the final say.
Well, the weeks are rolling by and I have been persevering with the exercises and the headphones, and most of the time I don't even have to think about it anymore. Though dealing with what I am expected to wear sometimes is still a very different matter. We have some special guests coming to visit the site and Felicity has insisted I have to dress up a bit. My protestations and arguments that a building site is no place for heels and a skirt fell on deaf ears.
The visit was going well when I realised I would need some papers from my car. Conscious that I was being watched as I walked back to the car, I was feeling rather pleased with myself as managed to get my gait just right. Heel in line with toe and just a little swing. I felt I was elegance personified. Right up to the point that I opened the door and caught my leg on the latch. Damn it! Not another run!
Frustration seemed to well up inside me. How do women put up with such impractical clothes like this?
A couple of days later I had to pop into town to run a few errands. For some reason I was feeling particularly edgy and I think I must have defaulted to bloke-mode and basically blanked everybody out. This constant attention is really getting to me. All the men seem to be doing is gawping and leering, and the women just keep giving me 'that' look.
The worst of it today was when a creepy guy started walking right alongside me and with a leering grin he kept looking at me! I have never felt so intimidated in my life!
In desperation I side stepped into a coffee shop. I saw a group of women sitting there and sat at the table next to them. Thankfully the creepy guy peered around the door and just walked off. I sat there for some time as I tried to calm myself down. I decided to give up on my errands and just get back to the site. I grabbed a takeaway coffee, and as fast as I could I made my way back to the car.
It was when I sat behind the wheel I finally lost it!
I am sure the guy behind the counter meant well. But what gave him the right to give an unsolicited and unwanted assessment of me like this? This constant focus on appearance and the incessant barely veiled sexual wisecracks is driving me insane. And that man following me earlier has really shaken me!
I can't be dealing with this any more. From now on it's baggy shirts and jeans.
The girls from the Clinic made it very clear they were not impressed and even Elizabeth couldn't resist making a few comments. What did surprise me was the guys on site were making disdainful comments too. What is it with people? I am here to do a job, not be a piece of eye candy!
For the next few days I stuck to my guns. It has almost become a matter of principle now. But if I am honest, and I don't believe I am saying this, I am starting to miss dressing nicely and... well... just feeling good about myself.
I stuck with it until Friday. It was a particularly windy day and I can definitely say I was having a bad hair day!
By the time I got home I was exhausted! Mentally, physically and emotionally. And when I saw the state of myself in the mirror it all flooded over me and I just wept. I don't know what's wrong with me? I am not one for tears.
Perhaps... Perhaps it's because I am so far our of my personal comfort zone? And this is definitely about as personal and as far out as it gets.
Perhaps... Perhaps this whole being a woman thing is getting under my skin more than I realise?
Perhaps... Oh, stuff it! I know what I need.
I sat there for ages cradling and staring the bottle... and at me. The fact that my nails matched my knickers did not escape my notice either. The fact I had nails, and clearly have had all through my dress-down week had slipped my notice. UGH! too much thinking! Oh, I am going to do soooo much damage to this bottle tonight!
Unsurprisingly I awoke next morning with a bit of a head. I thought I would give Elizabeth a call and after a chat it was decided we would meet up later for some lunch. Which considering the theme of this last week, left me with the awkward question of what to wear?
Something which I always thought women had an advantage over men, is the ability to dress to match, or sometimes even change their mood. Well, this time that advantage is mine. After all the rubbish I have had to deal with this week, I want to feel good, and I want to look good!
Elizabeth and I have been spending a lot of time together lately and I have come to greatly appreciate her company and her wisdom. We met up at a rather nice restaurant we sometimes use and as it's a nice day we thought we would eat outside.
Having got ourselves settled I explained what had happened all this week and how I have been feeling. Even as I was talking I could feel myself start to stress again.
She just smiled and said, "Welcome to the sisterhood."
I was expecting a bit more sympathy. "Seriously?"
"Cathy, I know this is all new to you. But what you are experiencing is common to all women. We live in a world that seems designed to undermine and damage the confidence of women. The reality is that these things are going to happen. The question is, how are you going to deal with it?"
I was taken aback by her casual attitude. It was obvious that this was all getting to me and I was hoping for some understanding. "So you are saying this is my fault?"
"No of course not. So what do you fancy for lunch?" As she looked down at the menu.
For a moment I just stared at her. I was actually starting to feel indignant and I think it must have sounded in my voice. "This is so unfair! How am I supposed to 'deal' with it?"
She calmly placed her index finger on the menu and gave me a sideways look, but didn't say anything. I was obviously expected to say more.
"I mean... it's ridiculous! All I am trying to do is get along with everybody. But whenever there is a group of men together it's all sexist remarks, and I have to really fight to be taken seriously. I am the project manager but sometimes I get treated as the receptionist!"
All I got from Liz was a wry smile.
"And the women, they can be even worse! I have tried making friends, but after a while all I seem to be doing is walking on eggshells. If it wasn't for you and Felicity I would think all women were at war with each other! All I am trying to do is get on with my job, be myself and treat others how I expect to be treated. But all I seem to be doing is trying to cope with other people's rampant hormones and crazy mind games!"
Liz just looked at me, I was in full flow now.
"And this obsession everybody seems to have about appearance. It's nuts! There seems to be so many unspoken rules. I will be honest, some days I don't want to leave home because I am not sure if I have my outfit or my makeup or my hair quite right! But I know I will find out soon enough! Either leering looks from the men or that special look of distain women seem to save for making their displeasure known!"
I took a breath. I suddenly remembered some similar conversations I had with my ex. I think I may be beginning to understand what she was actually talking about.
Elizabeth looked at me with that patient and kind smile I have come to appreciate so much.
"Cathy. I know this is a lot for you to have to deal with. I have had a lifetime of it and I still struggle sometimes. The trick is to develop and maintain a clear sense of self, rather than letting other people's attitudes define you."
"And dressing down or trying to hide behind dowdy clothing doesn't work. That will actually make you more of a target of criticism. And trying to hide your femininity can even give the signal that you are more vulnerable."
"You can't win. But you can give yourself an advantage. The more you take care of yourself, the more confidence you will have and the better you will feel about yourself. The better you feel about yourself, the more confidently you present yourself. And the more confident and self assured you appear to others, the more others will respect you."
I couldn't argue with the logic. But there is no doubt that being a woman is tougher than I ever imagined when I started this. And it seems that I still have a lot more to learn.
We continued to chat for ages and I completely lost track of time. We talked about everything, we talked about nothing. But that didn't seem to matter. I was with my friend and I realised there wasn't really anywhere else I wanted to be at that moment.
Afterwards, I found myself thinking about the relationships women have with each other. I still don't pretend to understand, but it certainly seems to be a lot more complicated than the friendships men have. But I suppose it does come with compensations too. Having Elizabeth as a girl friend (as opposed to a girlfriend) is certainly one of them.
The project is going well, and today we are having a break off site as Liz and I are going into London to see one of the suppliers for the build. As usual we were chatting away and we were soon onto her favourite subject. Men! I have learned it's best to go along with her and feign an interest. Of course, it didn't take long before she got around to the current focus of her interest. Steve, the site Forman.
She was really getting into her stride when I had to interrupt her. "Liz! Really? There is something about him, and I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, (which isn't very far nowadays) And... Ugh! He is just sooo gross! He showers once a week, 'Whether he needs it or not', and he is such a pig!"
She stopped talking and looked at me intently, as if seeing me for the first time. "Cath, I hadn't really noticed before, but you seem to be looking younger lately, and I don't know if you realise it, but you are a lot more animated and expressive now. I know the Body-Shaper is adaptive, but sometimes I forget you are not really a girl."
She took a pause, "And you always seem to be wearing earphones? Do you really love music that much? It must be very distracting?"
The worrying thing is, it was just this morning that I realised how much I had changed. But it was still a shock to hear Liz had noticed it too. Really not wanting to get into that right now I tried to change the subject, "Oh, the headphones? I adapted the headset I was given so it was more comfortable. It seemed to be helping and I just sort'a got into the habit of wearing it."
Liz went pale. "Uhh, Cath, that headset was designed to be worn only while you were doing the exercises. Surely somebody told you?"
Now it was my turn to go pale. "No, not a word. Old Grumpy Britches just gave them to me and you know how bad she is for communicating?"
It was at that moment the taxi turned into the suppliers car park. By coincidence our appointment was standing by the entrance as we drove in, so there was no chance to continue our conversation. And on the way back Liz seemed to be focused on talking about our visit, and I felt too confused and uneasy to bring it up myself.
But when I got home and finally had a chance to stop and think, what Liz had said just kept going over and over in my mind. What have I done? I had become so focused on not letting anyone down and getting this right, I didn't think of the long term consequences. What have I done!
My mind kept spinning, and that phrase just kept rolling over in my mind, What have I done!!
I am not even sure who I am anymore.
I have to get away.
I have got to do something!
Stop... Take a breath... What did I used to do when things got too much?
My bike! The Guzzi! Yes, that's what I need. Remind myself who I am.
I managed to hide it away from my ex while all that mess going down, and with all that has happened since I have just left it tucked away in the shed. I almost ran down the garden, and as pulled back the cover, "Ah, there's my beauty" A quick check over to make sure she is good to go, and I didn't even have to boost the battery to fire her up. Yes!
My bike gear certainly won't fit me now, but I still have some of the ex's. Never did I dream that I would be the one wearing it. What I really didn't expect was how heavy I now found the bike was to manoeuvre. Obviously the bike hasn't changed, but it's a stark demonstration of how much I had.
After much huffing and puffing I did manage to get it onto the drive, and I was surprised to discover that my ex's bike gear was actually rather loose on me. Even more of a surprise (and worry) is that I can't decide whether that is a good or bad thing?
But I am finally kitted up and ready to roll. The first few miles were a little unnerving while I found my new point of balance and got back my groove. But then I just let the miles roll and I ragged the old girl!
It's good to be alive!
And before you jump to any conclusions...
It was when I was putting the bike back in the shed, I stepped back and put my foot into an old paint tin. As I lost my footing I instinctively reached out and grabbed the shelf... The shelf I hadn't quite gotten around to fixing properly... The shelf that had half the contents of the shed on it... The contents which then promptly landed on me!
Oh boy! Did I get an ear bashing! I was told I should be more careful! What did I think I was doing? Why didn't I call them first? I shouldn't be riding powerful bikes anyway... and so on. Liz and Felicity had built up a full head of steam and were definitely going for it! I couldn't get a word in edgeways.
It was just getting to the point of being really annoying when I realised they weren't so much angry with me for having an accident. I had frightened them. They had become my dear friends over these last months, and as I watched and listened to them berate me, I realised they were actually saying they love me. And the wonderful thing is, at that moment I realised I loved them back.
I hobbled around on crutches for weeks and weeks. Apart from being a pain (literally and figuratively) it pretty much guaranteed I was going to be in dresses and skirts for the duration. So it looks like I am going to get used to them whether I like it or not. Which seemed to please everybody no end.
Well, the build is almost complete now and I had arranged to come in on Sunday to run through with Felicity the preparations for the grand opening. The place is so much quieter and we can get a lot more done without all the usual interruptions. But it was when we came to get some paperwork from the spare office we had the shock of our lives!
Rifling through the draws was Steve! (Well that answers a lot of questions and Liz is not going to be happy.) Felicity was first off the mark and she managed to catch him completely off guard and knocked him to the ground. Damn she is quick. I immediately hit the security button and we stood over him while the guards arrived.
As they dragged him away Felicity whispered in my ear, "We knew we still had a security problem. I really hope we have just found it."
The day of the Grand Opening has arrived. Apparently I still can't be trusted to pick out an outfit for such an import event so Felicity had something arranged for me. I know I shouldn't have been surprised but I do wish she would give me a break sometimes. It's not even been a year since I wore my first dress. And she wants me to wear this in front of all the bigwigs?
Elisabeth came in to check on how I was doing. "Cathy, you look amazing! You are definitely going to be catching everybody's eye today."
My insecurities were going wild. As I looked in the mirror nothing seemed to be quite right to me. But when I saw Elizabeth, WOW! As usual she just looks stunning! But curiously, seeing her look so good also made me feel more insecure about my own appearance. Am I being vain?
With what little confidence I had quickly evaporating, "Do you really think I look ok?"
"My dear Cathy, if we weren't best friends I would ravish you myself." As she flashed me a cheeky grin.
I was surprised to hear her say that. But not as much as the curious trembling I felt low down. But she is always making jokes and I know she is into guys, she almost talks about nothing else. And one thing is sure, at the moment I look nothing like a man. Yes, of course she is joking.
I was just starting to come to terms with having to wear this dress when Felicity came in. "Stand up straight, turn around and let me look at you. No, no, no. Imagine that your head is being pulled up by a hair on the crown of your head. Elongate your neck, lift your chest, and allow your shoulders to fall back. That's it. Shoulders back, chest out, tummy in, pelvis forward, and buttocks tight."
Oh, this is ridiculous. I feel like I'm about to fall over backwards.
Felicity was in her element. "Stand tall and breathe through your nose. Chin up, be confident and fully present your body. Let your soul shine out from your eyes. Focus on the moment, you are glorious!"
Trying hard to no get irritated, "Felicity. Honestly. Is this really necessary?"
But she was now on a roll. "Ok, let's see how you walk. Heel in line with toe and glide with the elegance of a feline. Let your hips and arms gently swing and let your pelvis to lead you forward. And most importantly, remember, grace, poise and control. You are beauty in heels!"
I tried to give her a stern look, though I am not sure how well it worked.
"Felicity, enough. You have been coaching me for almost a year. If I haven't got it by now I don't think there is much hope do you?"
By her fidgeting I could see she was nervous and she was starting to get me all of a flutter too. They both needed to be at the reception to get things started so I shooed them out, which gave me a few minutes to try and gather myself again.
As I walked towards the reception, never in my life would I ever have dreamed I would be wearing anything like this, or looking like this. I was nervous as hell! But secretly, I knew I was looking good too.
Well, the project is done and is deemed a great success. For the first time in ages, I have a quiet weekend with nothing to worry about, and I found myself pondering over these last months.
So I suppose I can look forward to getting back to normal? The question now is... what is normal? I have been asking myself some very hard questions lately. In spite of my appearance and my experiences, and even my screw up with the brain iPod thing, it still hasn't fundamentally changed who I am.
I certainly have a greater empathy for women and what they have to go through. And I will admit, there is much I have come to like about what I have experienced. But do I want to live the rest of my life as one? Felicity surprised me when she hinted that might actually be an option.
I have been told they have already prepared a Body-Shaper to give me back my male physique. It will take a while to build up my body mass again and I can even have some choice of how I will look.
How... I... will... look? Wow. Seriously. What a question? How on earth do I answer that?
At least I don't have to make that decision tonight. I have come to rather enjoy baths. I used to be a shower man, but these last months have introduced me to a whole new world of experiences of oils and bubbles and a decadent glass of wine. I think I am actually going to miss it.
I didn't sleep at all last night. My mind just kept rolling over and over the question "Who do I want to be?" I am a simple soul, how do I know how to answer a question as loaded as that? On my way to the Clinic I found myself driving extra slowly, just so I could put off for a few more minutes having to face making that decision.
But, eventually, I arrived.
Having parked, I just stood there looking around. It was the weirdest feeling. It was almost as though once I walked through those doors I was not coming back. It's hard to describe, it's not a foreboding I was feeling, it's not even a sadness. The only way I think I can explain it, it's as though all the colour had been turned down, everything just felt tinged with grey.
I can't stand here forever though. So taking a deep breath I started walking towards the main doors. I did get a touch of deja-vu when I remembered it was these doors I was not allowed to step through that first day I came here. A lot has changed indeed!
I made my way to Felicity's office, and with as long a pause as I could dare, I knocked and opened the door. I had gone over every scenario and every argument in my mind. The one thing I never even dreamed I would see as I came through that door, was Felicity sitting there crying.
As she looked up it was obvious she had been crying for some time. "Cathy my dear, I am so glad it's you." Handing me a letter she said, "Read this".
I quickly scanned the letter to get an idea of what it said. Even a cursory read was unsettling. With tears in my own eyes I reached out to hug Felicity and she just collapsed into my arms and started sobbing.
Still holding me tight, her voice muffled by my shoulder. "They want to take everything! Everything I have worked for all these years! And did you notice the addresses? They are the people most dear to me! The threat is obvious, how can I fight against that?"
I didn't say anything, but I had noticed a couple of address. And that mine was one of them.
Not letting her go, I read the letter again. Slowly this time. The list of demands were outrageous and the threats were both subtle and blunt. There was no misunderstanding that they were determined to take all they wanted and ruin Felicity.
After a little while she stopped crying, and with a sigh she pulled back.
As she composed herself I said, "But I don't understand? Why now? They must have been planning this for some time. It would have been far more sensible to do this while we were in the middle of the build and all the systems and sensitive equipment were less secure?"
She looked up, and almost in a whisper, "It was you".
I couldn't quite take in what I was hearing. "What do you mean, it was me? How could I possibly be the reason for this?"
Felicity took a deep breath, "I had planned to tell you today, I am sure you have already guessed some of it. I just never in my worst nightmare dreamed it would be under these circumstances... It started with that terrible mix-up with the prototype Body-Glove, and that we had to use one that had been calibrated for another client to save you."
(I wasn't sure I liked the way this was going)
"In ways we are still trying to understand, it made your body incredibly receptive to the Body-Shaper. Our technology is not supposed to change someone. It is designed to make you slimmer, healthier, younger even, but you will still be recognisably you."
(I definitely didn't like the way this was going)
"What happened to you was a unique set of circumstances. But you are living proof, that with exactly the right parameters, it is possible to transform someone."
She dropped her head into her hands and sobbed!
"It was my pride, my hubris. Nobody should have known who you really are. It was meant to be a private joy. I have come to love you as a daughter, and before you changed back, I just wanted to show you off, just once. To show what a beautiful woman you had become. But somehow they found out! They could see the potential, and they wanted it!"
We sat there in silence. My mind was racing. I my emotions were churning! But seeing Felicity so shaken and vulnerable seemed to trigger something in my mind.
I was indignant! I was angry! They were threatening someone I cared about and I really take umbrage at that!
It's hard to describe, but from somewhere deep inside it felt as though my mind was regaining a focus. There is a problem! Right! Let's deal with it! You may laugh, but it was almost as if I could feel my shoulders pull back and my spine straighten. Time to be a man again?
I looked straight at Felicity, "They have given thirty days to comply. Well that gives us time to work something out. If it comes to it, we give them what they want and we will deal with the consequences once we know you are safe. But be damned if I am just going to give up without trying! There must be something we can do to stop them?"
She gave a weak smile, "But there is obviously still someone inside the Clinic working for them. Every time we have tried to move they have been ready for us. It was only by chance we stumbled upon Steve, but he never really got access to anything and it looks like he was just an opportunist thief. There is clearly someone else, but we have no clue who. We would fail before we even got started, and if they don't see us getting everything together for them... she dropped her head back into her hands, "I can't risk loosing those I care for"
I sat myself at the desk and got a pen and some paper out (I am old school, what did you expect?). Looking over to Felicity, "We need a game plan. First, what are our assets, who do we know we can trust?" My voice seemed stronger somehow.
Felicity looked up and she almost seemed surprised to see it was me sitting there. She cocked her head thoughtfully, "We cannot take the risk of involving anybody else." Then after a long pause, "The only ones I have absolute trust in is Mabel and Elizabeth... and you."
I raised my eyebrow, "Are you sure about old Grumpy Bri... sorry, Mabel? I don't mean to be rude, but she is rather strange?"
Felicity gave me a stern look, "Mabel and I go back a long, long way. I have literally trusted her with my life on more than one occasion."
"Fair enough. So it's the four of us then?" Trying to sound more confident than I actually felt, "I almost feel sorry for them, with a team like this they have no idea what is coming."
It was then the door opened and Liz came in. Felicity quickly hid the letter and whispered to me, "Don't tell Elizabeth about the letter."
Liz immediately noticed something had upset Felicity and came and sat by her. "What's wrong?"
I could see Felicity straighten herself up, and as she patted Elizabeth on her knee, "We have a problem my dear. We have just confirmed that we still have a security breach."
My mind had shifted into overdrive and I had an idea forming.
"BREADCRUMBS! We need a breadcrumbs trail. Liz, you know the computer systems here better than anyone. I assume it would be possible to create a sealed file that looked secret but had 'accidentally' been saved where it could be found should somebody be snooping around where they shouldn't be? You with me so far?"
The looked puzzled but both nodded.
"Ok, so when someone tries to access the 'secret' file it will automatically send a silent ping to alert us that the game is on and which computer is being accessed. Then when they email the file, a ghost message is also sent to our computer complete with the receiving address."
I could see a smile starting to grow on both their faces.
"Then as a final touch, every time the file is accessed or moved or duplicated, it pings back to us its location. All we need to do then is follow the ping and discover who is behind this. As I said, breadcrumbs"
Felicity and Liz turned to each other, grinned, and in unison said, "I think we could make that work".
It didn't take long to set it all up, but we sat for days waiting for the trap to be sprung. Then all of a sudden the alert went off and Liz and I dashed to the location of the computer that had accessed the file. But it was the other end of the building and by the time we got there the room was empty.
"They couldn't have gotten far!" So Liz and I split up to cover both exits. As I burst out of the door I caught a glimpse of someone, I thought I recognised Liz's coat but knew that couldn't be right.
I ran as fast as I could, but as I rounded the corner all I saw was a car speeding away into the distance. If only I had been just a little quicker!
Disheartened, I met up with Liz and we made our way back to Felicity. "I suppose it was being hopeful that we would catch them red handed. It all depends now on how long, or if we get a ping."
By the time we had got back to Felicity, she had already traced where the file had been sent. So we know that part of the plan worked. But it was a drop-box. I know we should have expected something like that, but I was starting to feel rather dejected at our lack of success and was beginning to have my doubts if this will actually work.
But the ping file is only part of the plan. Nurse Grumpy has been working on a development of the Body-Shaper to give me a disguise. They were very coy about telling any details, 'so I wouldn't worry'. Which of course had the exact opposite effect. But it should mean that as soon as we get a ping I can follow it up and not be recognised.
With my experiences over these last months, changing my appearance again didn't unduly concern me. But what was making me increasingly nervous was the way that even Grumpy Britches seemed apprehensive about how much the technology is going to have to be pushed to give me a disguise that will stand up to close inspection in the limited time we have.
What have I got myself into? But it's too late to back out now, and if I can keep Felicity and Liz out of harms way then it's got to be the right think to do. So, the plan is to keep me sedated for as long as possible to avoid the worst of it, but apparently there may still be 'some discomfort'. I have a sinking feeling that is going to be one of Grumpy's grander understatements.
Well, the time has come, and I made my way to the R&D lab. I will admit I was nervous. And further unnerved when I saw Liz and Felicity were there waiting for me. They were making light of it and that they were just passing. I knew that was a fib, (but don't you dare tell them this) I loved them all the more for it.
But it was Grumpy that threw me the curve ball. While she got the anaesthetic ready she kept glancing at me. And when she prepared my arm for the injection, there was actual tenderness in her touch and I barely felt the needle go in. As I felt myself start to go under, to my utter surprise she smiled kindly and the last words I heard was, "Thank you".
It was a slow and drowsy waking up. My head felt like it was stuffed full of soggy day old muesli, my mouth tasted like I had been chewing kitty litter (the extra absorbent kind), and my body felt like it had been put through a mangle... twice.
I tried to move but my head started spinning and EVERYTHING ached, and I quickly decided that lying there quietly was actually a good idea after all.
I managed to force open my eyes and saw Grumpy standing over me, "Ahh, good. You are awake. So how are you feeling?"
My throat felt raw as I tried to speak. "Let's just say that it must have been one hell of a party!"
And there was that kind smile again.
Then I heard a voice from a bed next to me, "It's about time you woke up. You snore!"
I looked over, "I am sorry, but who are you?"
"I am Elizabeth of course. So what do you think of the new me?"
This anaesthetic must be really is messing with my brain, "Liz? Really? How? Why?"
"Because I couldn't let you do this on your own."
In pain and with a foggy head, this was a bit much to get my head around. "But Liz, this could get dangerous. And one of the main reasons I am doing this is to keep you safe and not put you in harms way."
She gave me a look that even through her different features I recognised straight away. She had made her mind up, and nothing that I or anybody could say would convince her otherwise. Then she said, "Isn't this cool? We look like sisters now."
"Hold on a minute! Did you say sisters?"
I saw a mirror poking out of her handbag.
"What have you done to me?!"
"You have gone too far this time! I have put up with everything else without complaint (well, not too much). Now I look like a child, and not even my own race! My body feels wrecked and now there is not a trace of who I am! You have no right to do this too me! You didn't even bother ask!"
From behind me I heard Felicity's voice. "You are right, we should have asked you. And for that we truly apologise and I hope you can forgive us. But we had to be sure there was no chance you could be recognised. If they even suspect who you really are you will be dead, or worse."
I could see the look of concern on everybody's face was genuine. I wanted so much to vent my anger on them, but even with my anaesthetic addled brain I knew they were right. I sat there stewing and trying to work out what to say, when I heard a sniffle coming from the bed next to me.
I turned to see Liz trying hard not to break down in tears. With the most sorrowful eyes I think I have ever seen, she looked at me and quietly said, "I am so sorry".
UGH! A man's heart has no defence to that look! I knew I was defeated and my anger melted away. "But you really should have told me you know?"
To my surprise it was Grump... Mabel who spoke up. "It's my fault. Felicity told me what you were prepared to do to protect her. She is... let's just say, very precious to me. From the first day I saw you I was suspicious of you. I know now I was wrong and from my heart, I apologise."
Mabel hesitated and looked down, and Felicity came to her side and put her arm around her. "Mabel has been secretly trying to find a way to give us an advantage and she has managed to develop our technology to not just modify someone's appearance, but to fundamentally transform it."
"Once Elizabeth found out what we are really facing she insisted that she would not allow you to go alone. But we then realised that with the two of you, we could give you the perfect disguise. A stranger on their own can stand out and be detected. But although everybody notices two pretty young girls, nobody really sees them. As far as everyone will be concerned, you are just a pair of silly girls having fun and of no real concern. We in effect, hide you in plain sight."
I could see their logic and there is no doubting the effectiveness of the transformation. There is nothing about myself I recognise. I feel so small and weak and for the first time in my life, truly vulnerable.
Even as a child I was a bit of a bruiser, always getting into bumps and scrapes, a typical boy really. And it was just natural to have that unspoken air of invulnerability that comes with having a robust build. I have never, ever in my life experienced this! Everything about me now is tiny, fragile, soft and delicate. I feel frightened and totally exposed.
I just wanted to run away and disappear. But all I actually managed to do was hide in the bathroom. Eventually it was Liz who came to check on me. She gently knocked on the door, "You ok in there hun?"
I tried to ignore her but she slowly opened the door and peered around the edge to see me. "May I come in please?"
I just shrugged my shoulders.
She pulled up a chair and sat beside the bath. "We are really worried about you, are you ok?"
I looked up at her, "You honestly have to ask that?"
"Liz, a year ago I was an ordinary, slightly overweight middle aged bloke. But look at me now. And this new Suit or Glove, or whatever it is you call it, it feels real and there is nothing about me I recognise. I feel tiny, I feel weak, and completely defenceless."
"And if that wasn't enough, any day now I am supposed to go and do what will probably be the most dangerous thing I have ever done in my life. I am terrified Liz, absolutely terrified!"
She stayed with me for a while and tried to comfort me, but I wasn't ready for that yet. I was too overwhelmed with trying to come to terms with what has happened to me. Eventually she stood up, kissed me on my forehead and said, "We love you, you know that don't you?" I could see her sadness in every step she took as she slowly walked out of the bathroom. Then with a soft click the door shut behind her.
All night I lay awake just thinking. There is no doubting that this has shaken me to my core. But slowly I began to realise that I was behaving like a child trying to punish the parents by using their own emotions against them. Well, I am not a child. Tomorrow I need to start finding a way to make this work. The clock is ticking and I don't have the luxury of feeling sorry for myself like this.
As much as the Body-Shaper felt different from my natural body, this one feels as different again. And it is downright freaky looking into a mirror and seeing a very cute Asian girl looking back at me.
But, there is not much we can actually do for now but sit and wait for the file to ping us its location. So I need to make good use of this time to try to get used to the changes they have made to me. And tomorrow I think I had better get started.
As the days passed, Liz and Felicity have been tireless in their patience trying to help me. And bit by bit I am getting more accustomed to my new self. I may not have the brut strength I had, but I have been surprised more than once at the strength I do have. And I have a flexibility and agility I could not have dreamed of before.
Liz is having a great time of it though. She is so excited with her revamp. Though she does seem to use every opportunity to taunt me. "Hey, Cath, check this out! This is brilliant! I haven't been able to do this in years!"
It's been nine days now and no ping. We are running out of time and beginning to wonder if our plan has failed even before we got started. At least it has given me precious time to work on acclimatising to my new self. To help give me some confidence, they have had me learning Aikido. Turns out I am a bit of a natural.
I have no illusions that in a real fight I wouldn't stand a chance. But it has really helped with learning how I move and being in better control of myself. I won't say I have my old confidence back, but it's a good start.
But Liz is getting really annoying. She is developing an obsession with talking photographs of me. If I didn't feel self-conscious enough, keep hearing a bzzz-click isn't helping. I don't even have any peace while I am trying to get dressed!
"Liz! Put that thing away will you!"
She just grinned and skipped away, pleased with another candid shot. Ugh! She is like a kid with a new toy.
It's been 14 days and we finally have a ping! It was a mad dash to the airport and I barely had a chance even think let alone get nervous. It was only once we were on the plane and I looked out the window, the reality of what I may be facing began to sink in.
Liz has dozed off and I was left alone with my thoughts. This has been the first time in ages that I haven't had to concentrate on one thing or another. I sat there just letting my thoughts wash over me. If I were to write all this down it would read like a bad fantasy novel. But it's not. It really is happening. The two of us are heading out to lands unknown, to find some dangerous criminals we don't know who they are, and somehow find a way to stop their evil plan. I must be insane! How on earth had I gotten myself into all this?
The flight seemed to end all too quickly and I was shaken out of my thoughts as we landed. Having eventually managed to pick up our luggage. I am not sure how, but somehow I got lumbered with trying to manhandle the trolley piled high with the suitcases Liz was determined we should bring with us. With hardly a glance over her shoulder she breezed off into the distance to get us a taxi.
Being so much smaller and weaker now I was really struggling with the trolley. Eventually I got to the exit, only to find Liz standing motionless and staring at her reflection.
I had been so focussed on trying to come to terms with my own transformation, I hadn't really considered that Liz may have been going through a few anxieties of her own. As I got over to her she seemed to snap herself out of it and acted as though nothing had happened. She turned and gave me a broad smile and said, "Found one".
We dropped off our gear at the hotel and after a quick change went hunting for the address the ping gave us. It didn't take long, and under the cover of Liz taking pictures of me, the two of us scouted around trying to see if there was a way we could get in undetected. What surprised me was considering that this was supposed to be a secure location, no one took a blind bit of notice of us as we wandered around taking photos. Perhaps Felicity was right? Hidden in plain sight.
Eventually we came to the realisation that the only way in was through the main entrance. But I didn't expect we would have much luck with that approach. Then I noticed there was a visitors centre, and in the corner of the window a Wi-Fi Hotspot logo. I gave Liz a nudge and a nod, "Got to be worth a try?"
Liz noticed that there were two security guards wandering around the visitors centre. She gave me a cheeky grin, "I think this calls for my secret weapon. Let's nip back to the hotel and get changed."
We had a plan.
As we walked in I got talking to the security guards. It seemed these two Neanderthals couldn't believe their luck that a pretty girl actually wanted to talk to them (please tell me I was never this bad). While their attention was on me, Liz opened up her laptop and somehow managed to log into their system. She really is a bit of a computer whiz.
In spite of my best efforts, one of the guards attention kept drifting over to Liz. But now I know what she meant about her secret weapon. The other guard was memorised by her.. uh.. dress and never noticed what she was actually doing.
I had just about ran out of patience and ideas trying to distract the guards, when to my great relief I saw Liz close up her laptop. She came over to me and tugged at my arm, "Come on, I want to check out that gorgeous bag we saw earlier." And with that we made our escape. Leaving the two guards standing there wondering what had just happened.
As soon as we were out of sight, Liz wrapped her arms around me and gave me a huuuge kiss! I am sure it was just her being caught up in the moment. I know young women can be a little over enthusiastic in showing their excitement sometimes and not really mean anything by it.
It was probably my imagination that her kiss seemed to linger by a fraction? And I am sure it was it my imagination that when she pulled away there was a slight flush to her cheeks? No! I cannot allow myself go down this route! An over active imagination is not a luxury we can afford right now.
The reality is that I am easily old enough to be her father, and I made a promise to Felicity to look after Liz. And I can't do that if I am distracted by delusional fantasies. They are both precious friends and to even contemplate taking advantage of that would be an abuse of their trust. Apart from anything else, I am hardly myself at the moment (to put it mildly) and while my nether regions are trussed up the way they are, it's not as if I can do anything about it anyway.
I had all this rolling around in my mind as we made our way back to the hotel. Liz meanwhile was still buzzing with excitement. "The Trojan file worked perfectly! All I had to do was run my little program to bounce a ping off it, and it uploaded itself back onto my laptop along with all the other data around it! We got everything!"
Once we got back to the hotel and changed, Liz went online and made a start on uploading everything we found and updating Felicity. She soon was engrossed in her online conversation and all I could hear was the rattling of the keyboard.
Which I wasn't complaining about as it let me concentrate on wading through all the data we had snagged. And there certainly is a lot of it. I don't know how long we both were engrossed in our tasks, but it was quite some time and I was startled when out of the quiet Liz said, "Fancy a boiled egg?"
I looked at her, not quite sure what I had heard. I know she can be a little left-field sometimes, which I will admit can be endearing. But sometimes I really do wonder how her mind works. "Excuse me? Boiled egg? What on earth made you think of a boiled egg?"
She looked at me as though I had just asked the daftest of questions, "As we came through the restaurant I saw a basket of boiled eggs and I just grabbed a couple for us. So do you want one or not?"
A little taken aback with her simple logic I wasn't quite sure how to respond. But now the thought has been raised, I do feel a bit peckish, "Umm, ok then, thanks". As she tossed it over to me I instinctively brought my legs together and pulled my knees up to catch it. As I looked down, "I am getting far too used to being a girl" I muttered to myself. Then my sense of humour kicked in, I said out loud "Ahh, memories".
Liz gave me a puzzled expression, then looked into my lap and we both burst out laughing.
I was making good progress with the data. Whoever these people are, they are well organised and well funded. I noticed that the name Shahrizah kept popping up, along with a list of locations and dates which seem to be counting down to our thirty day deadline.
Liz was getting restless and kept fidgeting. "I am bored, can't we take a break and go downstairs poolside for a drink?"
By the look on her face I knew I wasn't going to get any peace and a break did sound like a good idea, so I relented. But she insisted we dressed appropriately. When I saw what she had in mind I was not happy. I realise that girls of this age would wear stuff like this but it doesn't mean I have to feel comfortable in it.
"Liz. Please! Will you put that damn camera away!"
She almost hissed at me, "He is sitting right behind you, hold still while I get some photos of him."
I instinctively started to turn around.
"Don't turn around! He will notice you!"
"Looking like this I would be amazed if he hasn't", I grumbled. "Anyway, who is behind me?"
"The guy the security guards were sucking up to. "The one who was swaggering about giving the impression he owned the place. Perhaps Felicity can identify him?"
As it turned out, our timing was perfect. While Liz was clicking away, four other men turned up and Liz managed to get a good mug shot of all of them. Then we realised we should make ourselves scarce before we were really noticed and quietly went back to our suite. Liz went to her bedroom to grab her laptop and I expected her to come straight back out again and start uploading the photos to Felicity.
Only she didn't.
Wondering what was keeping her I went over to her room. Only to find her standing transfixed just inside the doorway. As I poked my head around the door to see what she was looking at, it all became clear.
We had earlier reported a faulty wall light and was told that Enrico their handyman will come and fix it. I think I can safely assume that the cause of Liz's current mesmerised state was the afore mentioned Enrico.
I gave a polite cough, and as he spun around his foot tangled in the bedding and he lost his balance. Liz dashed to his aid and in a very tactile way, was helping him get back on his feet. It was amusing to watch her loosing the plot and going all girly, but we need to get those photos off to Felicity and we don't have the time for this.
I just looked and gave a shake of my head, "Put it away Enrico". He actually seemed to deflate. I tried really hard not to smile, but I think it might have sneaked out just a little bit.
Contrary to current appearances I am still a straight guy. And although he is certainly impressive, he doesn't float my boat. The wisdom of choosing me for this job is becoming very apparent. One thing is for sure, Liz certainly wasn't thinking straight at the moment.
As it was, he had finished the repair and having slipped his shirt back on he quickly made his exit. Much to Liz's disappointment. She sat and moped for a few minutes and kept flashing me dirty looks, but after a couple of reminders she got on with uploading the photos.
Perhaps it was seeing Enrico that revved her up a bit, but she was soon getting the fidgets again. "There is a club next door to the hotel, can't we go there?"
Liz seems to sound more like a teenager every day. "You are not going to give me any peace are you?" Then with a heavy sigh, "Ok. We will go to the club. But we can't stay late. We have to get moving tomorrow."
As always, Liz insisted on an outfit for me. I was getting myself sorted when she called me from the other room. As I poked my head around the corner... bzzz-click.
"Elizabeth! Will you stop taking pictures of me!" She just grinned... I just groaned.
As we rounded the corner, the queue for the club seemed to go on forever. There was no way I was going to wait that long to get in. I turned to leave when she grabbed hold of my arm, "Where are you going?"
"Liz, I know you want to go in there but I am not going to wait until a week next Wednesday to get to the front of that queue."
She gave me a mischievous look, "You still haven't learned much about the power a pretty girl has have you? Follow my lead and watch this."
Taking hold of my hand we slowly walked to the front of the queue, Liz making sure she caught the eye of the man on the door. What followed was a perfect demonstration of how to be a cute, coy, innocent... seductress! The man was doomed the moment she caught his eye. I was getting hot and bothered and I was only watching! Needless to say, we didn't have to pay to get in.
I have never been one for clubs, and although I look the part tonight I certainly don't feel it. The music was way too loud, it was hot and smoky, and you couldn't move the place was so rammed. I went and got us both a drink, I know I needed one for sure.
I don't know if it was the heat, or the noise of the music, or the funny smelling smoke that was hanging around the dance floor. But that drink went straight to my head! I seemed to be buzzing and I felt light headed. As I looked up at the girls dancing, they were definitely having fun. And as much as I tried not to, the music and the atmosphere of the place was getting to me too.
I am sure I looked foolish. I have never been much of a dancer, let alone as a teenage girl. But after the stress of the last few weeks it was good just to go with the flow of the music. I don't know how long I gyrated for, I just let myself get carried along with the experience. And I was actually surprised when Liz started tugging at my arm and saying she was ready to leave.
As we stepped out and back into the fresh air, we turned to each other and in perfect unison we both said, "HUNGRY!" Grinning I said, "I could murder a kebab!" Liz was wearing a broad grin too, "Me too!"
The following morning I was woken by a bzzz-click.
I looked up to see that infernal camera again!
I gave her the look of death! She gave me a cheeky grin. Then kissing me on the forehead, "You just looked soooooo cute, I couldn't resist."
As it was, we had both slept in way longer than I intended to. I was still feeling groggy from the previous night, but the clock was ticking. There were a couple of locations on that list that looked promising and I knew we had to get ourselves moving.
We started packing everything away. It amazes me how much stuff being a girl seems to require. I am sure we don't really need to be carrying all this with us. We are supposed to be travelling light and in a hurry after all?
Then I heard Liz calling from the other room. "Cath, have you seen the camera? I can't find it anywhere."
Sigh. That woman could loose an elephant in a broom cupboard! calm... breathe... better go and see what she is doing I suppose. "Coming".
(Oh!... Sweet!... Momma!)
I am sure she is doing it deliberately! I am trying sooo hard to keep focused. But looking the way she does at the moment she would snap the needle of a cute-ometer! This is almost torture! What is she doing to me?
I looked around the room. "What? You mean the camera on the table over there?"
"Oops, silly me, how could I have missed that?" She said with a very coy look.
(Oops, silly me, my Aunt Gertrude. mutter, mutter, mutter....)
I went back to finish my packing.
We hired a car and finally got to the location of the next ping. It turned out to be one of those cheap travellers motels. Either we got the information wrong or they were using it as a relay point. Walking back to the car I watched Liz doing something on her phone. Her features may be different, but I would recognise her in an instant by the way she fiddles with her ear that and that little smile she does whenever she concentrates.
Back at the hotel, Liz is still teasing. I think? Or is my imagination over acting again? Ugh! I don't know. Either way, I have always prided myself on my self control and discipline, but she is driving me to distraction!
And these changes to my body aren't helping either. Everything is just so sensitive. And I do mean everything! But unlike before, even the slightest touch seems to be hard wired and amplified straight into my brain! And something seems to have gone seriously wrong down below. Because some of the sensations I have been getting from down there lately just can't be normal and are... well, let's just say I am having to be very careful how I shower.
Travelling with Liz I have discovered that she is a bit of a fruitaholic. I have to admit, things just seem to taste better lately and I have come to enjoy it more too. As usual she had already scoffed most of the fruit in the room. But this morning I managed to hide a small bowl of cherries which I know are her favourite.
In playful innocence I called out with a sing-song voice, "Eliiiizabeth... I have something foooorr you." As she looked around the door I tantalised her with my illicit bowl of cherries. "I know you luuuuv cherries, would you like mine?" As I gave her a naughty grin and popped one in my mouth and teasingly pulled the stalk off with a pop.
I don't think I have ever seen a face go through so many expressions all at once before!
And then, to my surprise, her cheeks turned bright red and she just mumbled something and quickly disappeared back to her room.
Oh! Well that wasn't the reaction I had expected? I was going to playfully feed her the cherries. I know she likes them. I even got some cream I was going to dip them into. I thought she would like that? I sat there feeling deflated. Seems I still have a lot to learn about women?
The next ping took us to a commercial centre. My heart sank when I realised it was one of those setups where multiple companies rent facilities in the same building. We could spend days here and still not find what we are looking for.
But by a stroke of luck we had arrived at the same time as some the regular staff and we tried to mingle with the group. One of the girls noticed us and we explained that it was our first day and we were nervous.
She said not to worry, she knows what that's like and she helped us breeze into the building and passed security. I continued to play the part of hapless newbie while Liz got on with the real work. It seemed to take ages but eventually she gave me a nudge and a subtle shake of her head.
As we made our way back to the hotel, I tried to put a positive spin on things, but I couldn't help my disappointment showing. As usual, as soon as we got back, Liz was online giving Felicity an update. Which left me a few moments to think.
Coming up empty handed yet again is really getting me worried. If we don't get a breakthrough very soon this will all be for nothing. I just kept running over everything in my mind, desperately trying to think if we had missed anything.
I admit it, I am scared. Scared of Liz and I getting discovered, the longer we do this and the more places we go, the risk increases exponentially. And scared that if we don't succeed, what the consequences are going to be for Felicity and everybody back at the Clinic. Because one thing we are beginning to realise is that these guys don't play for peanuts.
I was lost in thought when she came in. She quietly sat beside me and just put her arm around me and we sat there for ages just looking out of the window. I didn't realise how much I needed that.
We've got another ping! And the location corresponds to a nearby address I noticed in the files. Liz was straight onto the phone to Felicity, and after a lot of, "Uh-huh. Yes. Umm. No we haven't yet. Really? Oh ok." Liz put the phone down and said that we should hold tight until Felicity got back to us.
After four hours Liz was almost chewing at the furniture with frustration and was just in the process of sending a 'we are still here waiting' message, when her phone buzzed with an incoming text. As Liz read out the text saying we should be expecting a package, there was a knock at the door!
Somewhat startled, I went to answer it. And there standing at the door was a porter with a large cardboard box. Inside were two rather fancy dresses and an invite to a reception for a local dignitary at the address of the ping, and a note to say that a limo had been arranged.
Right on time a limo came to collect us. It was as we made our way up the drive I was beginning to wonder what we were getting ourselves into this time. Over the years, I have had money, and been around people who have had a lot of money. Money generally doesn't tent to intimidate me. But as we climbed the steps to the main doors it became clear that this house wasn't actually the house, it was just the entrance. This wasn't just expensive, it dripped wealth!
When we were escorted inside it was even more impressive, everywhere we looked seemed to notch it up a level. This isn't just another league, this is another world. But there seemed to be people everywhere and I was getting nervous. With so many people about I couldn't see a way of having a proper look around without being spotted.
Having spent a couple of hours being groped and leered at, we managed to work out which was the entrance to the private wing.
With Liz pretending to be ill and needing to go somewhere quiet, we nervously opened the door and slipped in. As we turned the corner there was a man on security. He wasn't pleased to see us, but he did soften a little as Liz did a wonderful impersonation of a dieing swan. Then having sat her down I gave Liz a wink and whispered, "I've got this, you do your thing."
Men can be so predictable sometimes. (I think I might be getting good at this.)
Again, Liz worked her magic and she was in and out before the guard noticed she wasn't still in the room with us.
This is it! The breakthrough we have been looking for! What she had snagged confirmed everything. And just in time too, the deadline is just five days away. Even more importantly it gave us a time and location for Shahrizah. Liz was straight onto Felicity and we were to get ourselves packed and to the airport immediately where tickets will be waiting.
It was only a short flight and on arrival we made our way straight to the hotel Felicity had booked for us, and as quickly as we could we dumped our luggage into our rooms and got ourselves changed. Our priority now is to follow up the coordinates we had for Shahrizah which seemed to be somewhere down near the waterfront.
We just started making our way back down to the lobby when Liz with an iron grip grabbed hold of my arm and motioned her head down the stairwell. As I looked over the rail I couldn't believe what I saw!
Through gritted teeth she hissed, "That's me! Well, obviously it's not me, but whoever that it she looks just like me! She is the mole! No wonder we were never able to identify who the spy was. She must have just kept out of sight until I wasn't around and then she would have free reign of the Clinic. If she had ever managed to get my passwords..." Liz stops mid sentence and clasps her hand to her mouth in horror.
I knew what we had just discovered was important, but the urgent thing at this moment is finding Shahrizah. We held back for a few minutes to let impostor Liz leave the hotel, which also gave Liz a chance to phone Felicity. But I knew the clock was ticking so we made our way to the waterfront to start our search.
We spent ages trying to find an upmarket club or a bar called Shahrizah. It had to be something like that. What better cover could you have for nefarious characters to come and go unsuspected? Although it was true that the waterfront was lined with every type of club and bar and restaurant you could ever hope for. None were called Shahrizah.
We were standing right on the waterfront looking up and down the rows of buildings. We had been looking for hours and I was just about ready to give up. Somehow we must have gotten something wrong? While Liz played with the GPS for the umpteenth time I said, "One more try", as I went over to speak to yet another local to see if they knew anything.
Then I heard behind me, "Cathy, uhh..."
I turned to see Liz looking directly at me, then slowly and deliberately look at the GPS, and then slowly and deliberately look at the water's edge.
I quickly made my way back to her. I looked at the screen, which she had turned the resolution up as far at it would go. And the little red dot was slightly, but most definitely in the water! It was then we realised that although there were boats of all sizes moored up along the waterfront. There was a huge gap exactly where the little red dot was pointing.
I had previously noticed the Harbour Master's hut and we dashed over to it. A few quick questions confirmed it, where the dot was resting was Shahrizah's berth. AND it was due back any time!
Liz gave me a big hug and we both started jumping up and down in excitement. We had done it! We had found Ground Zero! Then Liz froze, and her eyes went wide as she looked over my shoulder in shock.
If we needed any further confirmation, as I turned I saw immediately behind us Liz's doppelganger getting out of her car. She looks right at us! Did she recognise us? That's impossible, right?
It seems our disguise of being two excitable young girls has worked again as she calmly turned and walked away.
While we were distracted by Liz's doppelganger we hadn't noticed a stunning private yacht sideling up to the quayside. We watched as in a single well practiced manoeuvre it came to a halt, barely caressing the side. Impressive.
Turning to Liz, "That's Shahrizah. We need to get on there."
Yet again Felicity worked her wonders and she managed to get us an invite for a reception they were having tonight. I haven't said anything to Liz but I am getting really concerned. It's obvious that there is a lot more going on here than first thought. These are clearly exceedingly wealthy people we are dealing with. And how does Felicity somehow manage to keep getting us into these private and exclusive venues?
Apparently for tonight's entertainment we will be sailing to a nearby island which is basically the top bit of a dormant volcano. There will be a grand fireworks display which will culminate with the volcano erupting. I am assuming it will be simulated, though with these people I am not so sure.
Of far more concern to me is that we will be at sea and effectively trapped onboard. The reality is that these are dangerous people and we are playing a dangerous game. If something goes wrong, we could be in a LOT of trouble!
But I have to say, they have good taste. This is a beautiful yacht and if anything is even more impressive on the inside than it is on the outside. Liz and I were escorted to our own cabin and were told that the reception will be on the top deck and will commence once we leave harbour.
As always, Liz was up and ready and into party mood quicker than me. Itching to get moving, as she made her way to leave she turned and said, "Come on slow coach! Are you coming or what? Or would you like me to ask them to bring some Horlicks and slippers for you?"
With a theatrical flourish I put my hands on my hips, "Uhh, excuse me little missy. According to our passports, I am the younger one here."
She looked back with a mischievous grin, "Oh I am sorry, I had better make that some warm milk and a blankie then."
Knowing how our little banter sessions can go on for some time, I though I had better get myself moving. It would be better if we entered together anyway.
The reception was boring and tedious, and I spent most of my time fending off various immaculately dressed dirty old men. But the firework display was most impressive, and I will admit I was almost disappointed when the volcano didn't erupt for real. Though with the amount of explosions going on I am surprised it didn't.
Eventually I had enough, and feigning a touch of sea sickness I made my excuses and went back to my cabin. I wanted to have a good look around and that is going to be easier while everybody else is sleeping.
I set the alarm nice and early. There is a distinct atmosphere onboard when you are awake and you know everybody else is sleeping. It's one of my favourite experiences. Being able to look out over out the water as the moonlight dances on the waves, and feeling that low thrum as the powerful engines forge us through the water.
I was standing there leaning on the rails just drinking in the moment. When I sensed Liz come up behind me, and without saying a word, she slipped her arm around my waist and gently lay her head on my shoulder. I don't know how long we stood there holding each other and looking out over the shimmering waters, but eternity would not have been long enough.
Eventually I knew we had to get on with the job we came here to do and we cautiously started making our way around the yacht. I assumed that what we were looking for was going to be away from the guest cabins. Unsurprisingly everything else was behind secured doors. But by a stroke of luck we noticed a crewman coming up the corridor and without being noticed we managed to catch the door before it closed behind him. Now we had to be really careful. We shouldn't be here!
It was Liz who noticed them first. There were two doors that were different from the others. Just out of curiosity, never expecting that anything interesting would be behind an unlocked door, I tried the handle on the nearest one. It opened. But as we peeked into the room I couldn't believe what I saw.
I knew immediately what it was I was looking at and my blood ran cold! I turned to Liz and said, "We need to get out of here"
She looked puzzled and said, "But I thought we were looking for evidence? Surely this is it?"
"Liz, we need to get out of here now!"
"Liz, don't you get it? That's not just wealth, that is power! You could buy countries with what is in those rooms. These people are not just a bunch of rich criminals trying to take over the Clinic. They are planning to take control of countries! They are building a new empire!"
Liz seemed frozen to the spot. "I don't understand..."
I grabbed her hand and started running, "I finally worked out what the rest of the last printout meant. With the Clinic under their control and access to their wealthy and powerful client base, they are planning to change the appearance of their people and replace anybody they want. With the money and power they already have, literally nothing and nobody could stop them!"
"If we can get off this yacht and contact Felicity we might stand a chance. If they catch us, we are dead!"
I don't know how, but we managed to get to the motor launch bay without anyone stopping us. Perhaps Felicity was right? Who could possibly suspect two teenage girls of being able to discover the ultimate conspiracy?
There were a couple of boats in the launch bay so I picked the one that looked the fastest. A quick glance into the boat and I couldn't believe the keys were still in the dashboard. While Liz went over and started to slip off the moorings I activated the main doors. We jumped in, I hit the start button and we eased our way out.
Just as we started to pull away someone casually looked over the side and saw us. The surprise on their face was a picture as I opened up the throttle and the boat almost leapt out of the water. I thought it looked quick. That would be an understatement! It was all I could do to keep it pointing in generally the right direction. This thing wants to take off!
As we raced away, Liz got on the phone to Felicity and quickly tried to explain what we had found. While she was still talking, four very menacing helicopters thundered over our heads and headed straight for the yacht!
I had to concentrate on keeping the speedboat under control as it bucked against the waves, but I could clearly hear a vicious gun battle going on behind us!
I was already concerned. Now I am sacred. Just who is Felicity working for?
But one thing I was absolutely sure about. At the moment, all I am worried about is getting us as far away from that yacht as fast I can!
Felicity said that there will be a black Mercedes parked on the jetty, and a plane waiting for us at the local airfield. As we approached I could see the car and moored as close to it as we could. I couldn't believe we had made it this far and knew we had to keep moving.
As we ran towards the car a little boy waved at us, "I have the key for you lady." Whoever Felicity is working with they are certainly organised.
As I slid behind the wheel... UGH! I still haven't gotten used to just how big everything feels, and I scrambled to adjust the seat and controls. Having finally managed to find the right buttons I sat there waiting. Jiggling in the seat I shouted "COME ON!" Motorising everything is great in a showrooms but when you are in a hurry, they are so damn slow!
As we drove off I instinctively checked my watch. "It's been almost an hour since we left the yacht. The people onboard would have seen the helicopters heading towards them and seen us leave. They must have put the two together and we have to assume they were able to contact their friends ashore before they were shut down. We are not safe yet!"
It was almost as though they heard me. I saw in the mirror some distance behind us a menacing black shape pull out of a side turning. It was being driven very aggressively and forcing car after car out of the way. It was approaching fast.
It was trying very hard to intimidate and unnerve me, trying to force me to make a mistake. Yeh, right, like that is going to work on me.
Then with a roar of it's powerful engine it swung out and passed me... then slammed on the brakes!
I may look like a little girl, but I am no fool. I was ready for that move. This car is lighter and with much better brakes than that lumbering great Merc. I was comfortably able to stop with room to spare.
As the doors swung open, two mountain-like thugs heaved themselves out and looked straight at us! It confirmed what I expected, they were going to try and kidnap us.
I gave them a little wave and blew them a kiss. Silly boys, that's not how you do it. Where are the blocking cars that's supposed to be behind and alongside me? Amateurs!
A glance in the mirrors and I shifted into reverse and booted it!
I turned to Liz, "you had better hang onto something."
Time for a J turn!
Roaarr... Turn... Screeeech.... Snic.... Roooaar!
As I looked in the mirror I allowed myself a smile at the two goons left standing in the middle of the road receding quickly into the distance. But any pretence of hiding in traffic was now gone. They have seen us and they know what we are driving, time to get moving!
It's funny the way the mind works when under pressure. While carving a rather impressive path through the traffic I turned to Liz and said, "Hey, good job we are not back home with all those speed cameras." She looked at me in disbelief and just slapped me on my arm.
Still not really believing our luck, we got to the airfield with no sign of that Merc. And as promised, there waiting for us was a plane (how much money have these guys got?). I knew it was for us as I recognised one of the girls from the Clinic standing by the steps.
As we pulled up there was a flurry of activity and people seemed to come from nowhere. And the next thing we knew we were onboard and strapped in and airborne. We are on our way home.
Finally realising we were safe I started to allow myself to relax. My first thought was this plane was just showing off the wealth and resources they have available. But considering the world we have just experienced, I suppose this would probably be quite normal. And looking at it logically, it's actually the safest way to get out of there. A commercial flight would be far too vulnerable. They could sneak someone onboard, take over the plane, or even intercept it.
Well, not much would be able to keep up with this baby!
But I was then shocked ridged when I looked out the window! I was gripped with fear when I realised that the people from the yacht had finally caught up with us. And even worse was that they had access to high grade military aircraft. That's it, we've had it!
Then to my astonishment I was told it was our escort. Which as that thought started to sink in, my paranoia then took a different turn and I found myself wondering just how safe are we really being stuck on this plane? Partly because our protectors apparently have their own fighter jets! And that they actually think we need it!
As usual it was Liz who calmed me down. She ordered some champagne as though she does this sort of thing every day. The uncomfortable thought occurred that I don't really know much about her history. Perhaps there is more to Liz than I realised?
But as we sampled the in-flight amenities I was finally able to relax. And I will admit, I did allow myself to start feeling a little smug. I looked at her with a growing smile, "We did it Liz, we actually did it!".
All the way back we chatted about our adventures, but I kept running over in my mind the clues I had been gleaning. I haven't quite worked it out yet, but one thing is sure, Felicity is connected to something far far larger than one upmarket Clinic. Private jets is one thing, but where on earth did those helicopters and fighter jet come from?
Having landed, we were whisked straight to a huge Stately Home. Liz and I were separated and I was lead to a large room where three men were waiting for me. It was all very nice and polite, but there was no doubt I was being debriefed. What was really cheesing me off was that the information was all going one way. They just wouldn't tell me what was going on.
Eventually, they had decided there was nothing else they could get from me and I was escorted to a lounge where I saw Felicity sitting in the corner, and I made my way straight to her.
She looked up, "Oh my dear Cathy. I am so glad to see you. I thought they were never going to let you out of there, I hope they treated you well?"
I had been waiting for this moment ever since we stepped onto that plane, I was ready for this. "I'm fine. But Felicity, we need to talk!"
Felicity smiled her usual calm smile, "Yes dear, I think we do. So when are you going to marry my Granddaughter?"
"I... uhh... What? Marry? Sorry... What did you just say? Granddaughter? You can't be her Granny, you are far too young?"
Felicity patted the seat by her side. "For someone so bright, you can be remarkably slow sometimes. Come and sit down".
I felt the wind had been sucked right out of my sails and I meekly sat down. "But I don't understand? I just assumed... I... but... I am easily old enough to be her father... aren't I?"
"My dear child, you of all people should know better than to presume something like that. Elizabeth is actually a little older than you."
It was then that the penny dropped with an almighty great whumph! How could I have not realised the screamingly obvious? If someone had the means to stay young and beautiful, of course they would use it themselves.
"So if Liz is older than me, and you are her Granny, you must be really old!"
As soon as I heard the words out loud I clamped my hands to my mouth and look wide eyed at Felicity!
There was a momentary flash of surprise on her face, but then the kind smile was back.
I blurted out, "I am sorry, I am so very sorry! I didn't mean to say that. It's just looking at you, and knowing you for all this time, it's just too much to take in!"
Felicity just patted me on my knee and said "Don't let it worry you, I shall accept it as a complement."
But then through my confusion, a wave of sadness came over me. "But how could I possibly ask Elizabeth to marry me? For much of the time she has known me, I haven't actually been me? To be honest, with all that has happened, I am not sure even I know me anymore."
Felicity paused and looked thoughtfully at me. "Have you ever considered what it's like to be old? I mean properly old?"
I just sat there, feeling very bemused and lost for words.
"To all outward appearances, older people are barely recognisable compared to the young person they once were. Although it is true that living in a body that is aging does come at a price, and others will judge them purely on their appearance. But it doesn't change who they truly are. They are still the same person they always were."
"If you have had the privilege of really getting to know someone who is old. Don't you find that after a while you don't even notice the wrinkles and the grey? When they talk about something that excites them, don't you see that sparkle in their eye, and the young person they once were is still bubbling just below the surface?"
As she was speaking, I was remembering my Mother. The oldest teenager I ever knew.
I sat there as if truly seeing Felicity for the first time. Looking past the beauty of youth that she wears so well, I can also see a wisdom in her eyes far beyond her youthful appearance. I understand now that she may have lived for many more years than I had imagined, but she is undoubtedly young at heart.
She continued, "With our treatments, we have seen people transformed. But they are still the same person. The proud and the arrogant are still proud and arrogant, often more so with their improved appearance. The crabby ones will still find fault, no matter how beautiful they may now be."
"But every so often we are able to help someone whose appearance has been a prison for them. And it is a joy to see the person that was trapped inside, blossom into the beauty they always were but were too frightened to show. The others make for a profitable business. These precious ones make what we do worthwhile."
"And then there is you. Over this last year, I have watched you cope with so many changes. I have seen you struggle almost to breaking point, I have seen you persevere, and I have seen you adapt and grow. But all through those experiences, you have always remained the same honourable and kind person you always were. You still laugh at those awful silly jokes, and (with a smile) you still make a lovely cuppa".
I sat there speechless trying to take in what Felicity was telling me. Not just the wisdom of her words, but the more I considered what she was saying, the more I realised the implications.
"Do you love Elizabeth?" The directness of the question startled me.
It was the question I had been trying so very very hard to ignore.
But just at the hearing of her name, I knew the answer to the question I dared not dream. Quietly I said, "Yes".
"Have you come to love her, or the Asian teenager she appears to be at the moment?"
I hesitated to reply. I can't deny that the way she looks pushes a lot of my buttons. But as I thought of what it is about her that makes me smile and makes me want to be with her, I realised they had little to do with how she looked. Even now, although she is physically unrecognisable to how she was, I know without doubt, she is still my Elizabeth.
While all this was rolling around my mind Felicity said, "Did you ever wonder what it has been like for Elizabeth? Having to contend with the man she loves looking like a teenage girl?"
As she said that, I was abruptly reminded about my own appearance and subconsciously put my hand to my face. Being on the inside looking out it's sometimes easy to forget how I now look.
I am ashamed to admit it, I hadn't really thought of this from Liz's point of view. I had been mostly focusing on my own feelings.
Hold on a mo! Did she just say that Liz loved me?
But before I could respond Felicity said, "I Take it she told you that the Asian idea was hers?"
Felicity seemed puzzled, "Oh, so she hasn't mentioned her time in Korea then?"
I was struggling to comprehend the implications of what I had just heard. This was a whole other angle.
A look flashed across Felicity's face as she realised she had said something she shouldn't have. But then before I could say anything Mabel walk into the room. (Ugh! Timing!)
To my astonishment, she rushed over to me and wrapped herself around me in a hug! She almost shouted in my ear, "I was so, so worried, it's wonderful to see you back with us and safe again."
Eventually I managed to untangle myself, and Mabel just sat there grinning. Excitedly she said, "Ooh, I nearly forgot what I came to see you about. I have finished it and it's ready whenever you are".
I couldn't resist. I had to bite. "What is finished?"
Mabel was almost beaming with excitement. "Two things actually. You have obviously noticed that the nano-circuitry would have fully integrated into your neural system by now and that I was able to fully detail (polite cough) down below. Unfortunately I ran out of time before you went on your little adventure, but I have now completed development and we can finish the job and give you a fully functioning reproductive system!"
I didn't think I could be surprised anymore, but Mabel just managed it! "Excuse me? Firstly, what do you mean, 'I should know by now about being... what did you call it? Fully detailed?"
Felicity shot Mabel a look and I could see she was trying to subtly shake her head.
Mabel started to fluster, "Oh, umm, but I thought you and Elizabeth had..."
Felicity's eyes went wide and she grabbed Mabel's leg! And in an uncomfortably obvious attempt to change the subject, she abruptly said, "Mabel! Did you say there was two things you were going to tell us about?"
Mabel seemed barely able to contain herself now, "Yes! There most definitely is! I have been working on it for ages but wasn't sure I could do it so I haven't even told Felicity abut it yet. But I have done it!"
I saw a look of dread flash across Felicity's eyes.
"I am calling them Man-Pants." She said with a grin.
The look on Felicity's face morphed in an instant from alarm to dismay and then to resignation. Her shoulders dropped and with her head down she closed her eyes.
Mabel didn't miss a beat though and kept ploughing on. "It was actually you that helped me. Having yours as a template I was able to work backwards, and then I had a breakthrough and I have finally cracked it!"
By now I felt as though I was in some kind of weird dream sequence and just along for the ride. "Mabel, slow down a bit, what is it you have finally worked out?"
She gave me a hint of that exasperated look I used to know so well. "I just told you, Man-Pants. A fully functioning set of male genitalia that you wear like a pair of pants. It takes about an hour for the nano-fibres to connect to the corresponding areas of the female wearer, and then away you go. And as you know what an original one feels like, you can tell me how close I've got."
And then with a flourish and a flumph she dropped it on the table in front of me!
I sat there staring at it! After everything else that has happened, my mind had now firmly hit its limits. I just couldn't take it in. In the last few minutes I have been swamped with concepts and emotions I really don't know how to handle. I had to get some control back. I had to change the subject... and quickly.
I scrunched up my eyes and tried to focus through the storm of thoughts in my mind. I took a deep breath and with a supreme effort of self control, I remembered the question I originally planned to ask. "Please! Felicity! You have got to tell me. Who were those people on the yacht? and what's really going on here?"
Felicity sighed, "You are not going to let that go are you? Very well. It's a long story, going back centuries. But in essence, there are five very wealthy and very powerful families around the world. They mostly keep each other in balance, but every generation or so there is one who would seek to increase their power and influence. This time it was a cartel of the two smaller families."
"With them working together they were able to conceal who they were from us, which is why the matter couldn't be.. umm.. resolved as would normally happen. But of course, they knew exactly who to watch and so were always one step ahead."
"But thanks to you, they have been stopped and the cartel has been broken. They won't be able to move against the Clinic again, but they may come looking for you for payback. Thank goodness your disguise worked, but you will have to change your appearance one last time."
By now I think I would believe anything, "So that would mean that you...."
"So, did you miss me?"
We all turned around to see Liz standing there. (Arrgh! Again with the timing!!)
Felicity stood up and took my hand, "There is obviously much to be discussed, and we will, I promise. But not today. For now go and take care of Elizabeth."
It was clear I wasn't going to get anything else from Felicity while Liz was around. It seems there are always secrets, even (or especially?) within families.
Liz was still buzzing from the excitement of the day, but I could also see she was exhausted. I turned to Felicity and asked, "I think I need to get this young lady home, it's quite a drive from here and I think it might be an idea to get moving. I assume it's possible to sort a car?"
Felicity flashed a knowing glance at Liz, "Don't worry, it's all arranged. There is a car out front and you are booked into a local hotel. Go and have a nice meal, relax and make you way back home tomorrow."
Liz grabbed my hand and almost bounced out of the room. Sure enough a car was waiting for us and the hotel was already loaded onto the sat-nav. As we drove, Liz wouldn't stop chatting. It was almost as though she didn't want me to join in the conversation. Though to be honest, my head was still swimming from the avalanche of information from earlier. And I was too tired and hungry to worry about trying to make polite conversation and was happy to just let her gabble away.
I should have known something was up when she was so insistent that we should go to our suite first. By now all I could think of was what might be on the menu.
Liz opened the door but made sure I went first. A quick glance around. Meh, good size rooms but pretty much what I would expect for a nice hotel. I turned to leave (the call of the restaurant to my stomach was getting deafening), but Liz insisted we check out the bedrooms.
I knew I wouldn't get any peace until we did. But as I opened the door I couldn't believe what I saw!
I turned to Liz who was standing behind me.
She looked excited.
She looked scared.
She looked in love.
She looked absolutely, incredibly, wonderfully, adorable!
She nervously glanced at her hands and biting her lower lip she looked up at me, and then with the sweetest of smiles, "I knew you were too much of a gentleman to ask".
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