WRITER'S NOTES: Another of my favourite ASFR stories are Niki's Pleasure Palace series. This is again not meant to infringe on her work, just take it in a direction I believe it could go given the events in Part II. For those used to Niki's first person style, I write in third person and present tense. Family names that didn't appear in Niki's stories are my choice.
The McTavish Clan, Nicole and Mujanba appear in my anime
fanfic series Urusei Yatsura - The Senior Year and Illusions,
plus my Sailor Moon fanfics Lonely They Who Guard..., Sailor
Twins and Faith No More. For those who wish to read my other
fanfics, go to www.crosswinds.net/~japa_lennie/fherriotfics.
A year after the Pleasure Palace closed...
"The store will be closing in ten minutes. Please convey all your purchases to the check out counters at this time and thank you again for visiting Macy's..."
Julie sighs, her mind having emerged from another delicious orgasm loop as she watches customers make their way to the front of the store through her restricted field of vision, another business day coming to an end. She was displayed in swimwear, now barely covered in an expensive knit wraparound, sunglasses over her glittering blue eyes. Reclining in a lawnchair, she is under an umbrella, mimicking a pleasant day on the beach beside several other mannequins, all formerly robotic women of the Pleasure Palace.
She couldn't see her, but she knew Jennifer was posed right beside her. Since the day they came to Macy's, the two had never been separated; Julie assumed the staff knew of their closeness when they worked in Las Vegas and elected to use them as a display pair. With them were Mandy, Beth, Christine, Melissa and Kim, women Julie knew well from her brief time at the Palace.
While being frozen as a display mannequin was certainly not painful to Julie and her companions thanks to the orgasm programs built into their systems after their roboticization, it could be darned boring after a while. She couldn't talk to any of her friends, especially Jennifer, couldn't move, couldn't do a thing! Yes, her mind was kept busy as it were, but after a while, endless orgasms had become a little stale. Julia had wanted to be a sex robot, had volunteered to serve at the Pleasure Palace, but she never expected her dreams to have led to this!
In a while, the lights dim as the staff files out, leaving the store to the mannequins and the quasi-mannequins. Julie knew, she didn't know how, that about one-tenth of the three hundred robotic men and women that were active when the Palace shut down were in this building. If only Phil had thought to provide a server unit, do something to allow everyone to keep in touch, even if it was over a wireless computer link. As another orgasm thunders through her mind, Julia swoons, her senses overloading...yet deep down, there was no heart in it anymore.
Who had done it to them? The Palace had been active for more than five years, drawing in huge crowds from across North America and abroad as they happily catered to their customers' limitless fantasies. Most of the people who worked there volunteered, many of them willingly enduring the transformation to robotic men and women, so what was the problem? Why couldn't've people left them alone and in peace? Julie prided herself in knowing she never once displeased a customer...then again, that was the norm at the Palace...so the pain of this endless prison at Macy's hurt worse.
The orgasm fades, Julie sighing...then she feels her mind fade. Oh, no, she was running out of power in her secondary battery! Was that possible? What would happen to her now...?
* * *
"Okay, we have Julie under."
"Send the new program, then power her up."
* * *
Julie gasps, jolting as she rockets out of the lawnchair, her body coursing with energy! The robotic woman crashes onto uncompromising marble. Shaking her head, she reaches up to take her glasses off...then freezes in surprise, gazing at her hands. She could move!
"Free...!" she gasps, staggering to her feet, then she does a quick inspection of herself. No damage to her skin, though her suit was slightly ripped. Rubbing her scalp, she then looks around. Well, no one was around to notice what happened, so she didn't have to worry about nightwatchmen or anything else. Macy's did have a security camera system, but the ones active when the store was closed were just those poised at the doors...
How did she know THAT?!
Julie shakes her head, tensing as more information pours into her mind. Blocks which had dominated her behaviour for over a year were gone now, thoughts considered verboten at the Palace storming back. A face then appears in her memory, her best friend...the best friend she practically betrayed when she underwent the transformation from Jeff to Julie.
"Oh, Paul, I'm sorry...!" she sobs, sinking to the floor as her hands cover her eyes, tears she hadn't shed for so long streaming down her cheeks...
* * *
"She's remembering what happened to Paul."
"Expected. She volunteered to undergo the whole thing, but would've never wanted it to happen to others against their wills."
"We're ready for Jennifer."
* * *
Julie's mourning is interrupted by a shriek from behind her. Spinning around, she gapes on seeing Jennifer standing up from her lawnchair, looking surprisedly around. Her tears become those of sheer joy as the blonde fiercely embraces the redhead. "I love you, Jen!!" she sobs.
"Julie, wha...mmmff!!" Jennifer gags as Julia's mouth swamps her in a wet kiss, the slightly smaller woman being nearly crushed by the blonde's embrace. "MmmmmmmmmMMMMM!" Jennifer purrs as their tongues dance around each other, then they break apart. "Oh, now THAT'S what I'd call a wake-up kiss!!"
"Loads more where that came from, love," Julie purrs.
"You're crying!!" Jennifer gasps, reaching up to touch Julie's damp cheeks, then feels her own. "I'm crying..."
"I was just remembering what happened to Paul," Julie laments. "I wanted to become a robotic woman, but I sure didn't want to drag him into it."
"I'll say!" Jennifer shudders, a torrent of anger surging up from her long repressed soul. "There were a few times I was involved in 'hostile' conversions myself..."
"Hey, wha' time is it...?"
"Mandy!!" Julie smiles as the third in their display stretches herself, then the couple embraces their friend.
"Whoa, hey, guys!" Mandy's Brooklyn drawl is in the fore as she accepts their tenderness. "Man, how long've we been under?"
Jennifer notes a digital calendar-clock by the escalator to the lower floors. "Nearly thirteen months," she muses.
"Thirteen months too fuckin' long, for cryin' out loud!!" Mandy snorts, shaking her wavy dark auburn hair to cascade over one eye. "Shit, who's dumb idea was this, anyway?!"
"I catch the slimebag, he's dead!!" a voice snarls.
"Christine!" Julie grins, then embraces the woman who also helped Jeff made his life-altering decision. "How are you?!"
"Pretty alright given what happened!" Christine turns to a mirror, then frowns on seeing the gaudy pink bowtie binding her hair in a long ponytail. "Eeew!! Who's idea was this?!" she snaps it off, allowing the raven locks to cascade down her back.
Christine blinks, then gazes at Mandy, who had snapped off her red bikini top to reveal her very ample breasts. "Hi, Mandy," the brunette walks over, gently embracing her own soul-mate, her hazel eyes burning with desire and love. "I'm so glad we're back on our feet again!"
"I'm glad we're still together," Mandy cups the shorter woman's chin, then they kiss.
"So am I," Christine swoons.
Sniffs are heard. "Oh, you two make such a lovely couple," Melissa dabs her damp cheeks with her fingers.
"Welcome back, Mel," Julie kisses her. "How are you?"
"Well, happy we're up and around, but worried about Paul," the strawberry blonde sighs, her sorrowful chestnut eyes tearing anew.
"You're not the only one," Julie closes her eyes.
"It wasn't your fault, Julie," Jennifer reminds her.
"Bullshit!! It was my fault, Jen!" Julie gazes at her. "I didn't know the whole story about the Palace, then when I was drawn in, I completely forgot about him. Some best friend I was, huh? Besides, if this is happening to us now, wherever he is, he'll wake up and he'll feel righteously pissed over what happened to him."
Jennifer crosses her arms. "But he'll remember that you were programmed not to turn against the Palace, just like he was when he was roboticized. He'll understand, Julie. Give him a chance."
"What about Beth?" Kim wonders, stretching herself.
"Kim!" Melissa gasps on seeing the chestnut-haired woman move, then throws herself into her embrace. "Oh, sweetie, how are you?!"
"Another couple happily reunited," Mandy winks at Jennifer.
"Can't argue with love," the latter grins.
A moment later, Beth stifles a yawn as she stretches herself. "Hey, welcome back, Beth," Jennifer kneels beside the raven-haired, blue-eyed ex-strip dancer, another forced to be roboticized to ensure she'd never leave the Palace. "How are you?"
"I feel like shit, thank you very much!" Beth hisses, then lightly smiles. "But I'm not angry at any of you, Jen."
"We're glad," Jennifer kisses her, then helps her up before looking around. "Okay, we're up and around. Anyone have any idea how many others from the Palace are here?"
"And how the hell did we all get enough power to move around?" Melissa muses, then looks down at her ankle. "What the...?!"
"Hey!" Julie notices that all of them have small circular devices attached to their ankles. Reaching down, she peels it off, then stares closely at this. "Well, I'll be damned..."
"What is it, Julie?" Christine asks.
"It's a portable battery charger, I think," Julie bites her lip. "They were experimenting with things like this before I came to the Palace. Someone must've stuck these on us earlier on."
"But who, much less why?" Jennifer hums. "I don't like the feel of this."
"I want to know who erased all the behavioral programs in our minds," Kim points to her head. "I mean..."
"Hey, could our servers be on-line?" Mandy wonders.
Julie blinks, then concentrates. <<Hello? Can anyone hear me?>> she transmits out, accessing her server...then blinks in surprise; she never had THAT ability before.
"We heard that," Mandy reports.
Suddenly, a grumpy male voice echoes through their mind. <<Hey, who's yelling in my head...?!>>
"Steve?! Where are you?!!" Julie wonders.
<<Ugh...down in menswear, I think,>> the robotic man grunts. <<What's going on, Julie?>>
"We're as much in the dark as you," Julie sighs. "Look, when everyone else is up, let's get together on the main floor, then we'll figure out what to do with ourselves..."
* * *
"It's working. They have full independent thought now."
A hoarse chuckle, almost a rasp, but sharp with the sweet nectar of victory. "So the Pleasure Palace finally dies, its own slaves emancipating themselves...with help from us. How soon can things be prepared for the next stage?"
"Work's progressing now on the new converter units, sir. I'll call the McTavishes for an update if you wish..."
"Don't bother. Let it happen in its own time. Are the agents at the Rising Dragon finished with their preparations?"
Within ten minutes, thirty robotic men and women stand at the ground floor landing, all in various states of dress. Much to Julie's sorrow, Paul was nowhere in sight. "Okay, we're on our feet, with full primary power, not to mention all the emotional and behaviour programs finally out of our heads," Jennifer recaps. "The question now facing us is: what do we do now?"
"Fuck it!" Mandy snorts. "I don't know about you folks, but I'm outta this place! I'm going home!!"
"Mandy, you can't trip out just like that!" George, Steve's best friend, warns.
"Hey, we're in New York!" the Brooklyn native winks. "I've got relatives still around. I can survive!"
"As what?!" Christine snaps, glaring at her lover. "Mandy, we're robotic people, remember?! Can your relatives help maintain you if you got into an accident?! We have to stay together!"
"She's right, Mandy," Jennifer sighs. "As a group, we stand a much better chance of surviving."
"As a big group, we can be caught in case Phil finds out and decides he doesn't want us running around," Mandy objects...
...then everyone tenses. "Hey, something's coming into my mind," Beth touches her ear.
<<My apologizes, ladies and gentlemen,>> an aged voice echoes in their minds. <<The harsh awakening was uncomfortable for some of you, I'm sure, but time is sadly of the essence.>>
"Who are you?!" Jennifer demands.
<<Explanations must wait, Jennifer,>> the voice apologizes. <<If those who would rather see you in chains learn you're free, as are all your brothers and sisters across the country being freed now, last year's work would be all for naught. Now, since Mandy's a local girl, you can make your way to Chinatown, the Rising Dragon Restaurant on Broadway. In the garage next door are six cars with identification prepared for you just in case. Take whatever clothes you need for a cross-country journey from the store; Macy's'll be compensated in due course. Further instructions are in envelopes in the glove compartments. Now, here are the numbers...>>
Everyone concentrates, then Beth looks up. "How can we trust you?!" she demands. "How do we know you're not like Phil?!"
A resigned sigh. <<You are wary, especially after what you have endured, especially those of you who were forced into this life. Understandable, Elizabeth. But the battery chargers on your ankles will last for only a week, then you will be immobilized once more. Do you really want that to happen?>>
Everyone tenses, exchanging looks. Whoever their mysterious benefactor was, whatever his intentions, he obviously understood the carrot-and-stick approach to motivating people. "Okay, we're going!" Mandy sighs, crossing her arms.
<<Then we'll see you sometime this week. Good luck.>>
The voice fades. "Okay, let's get stuff that won't cause people to stare at us; we SHOULD remember that even after working at the Palace," Julie sighs. "We're out of here in twenty."
"We should write a note to the staff telling them what happened," Melissa proposes, holding up an objecting finger. "After all, we are stealing their merchandise."
"And let Phil find out?!" Mandy snorts. "Forget it, Mel! I'll go take care of the cameras!! Let's blow this joint!"
"It was just a suggestion," Melissa shrugs, then is dragged off by Kim to ladies sportswear...
Walking in couples, threesomes and foursomes at staggered intervals (George and another robotic man, Jack, were ex-soldiers, their survival training coming back), the thirty robotic people who had been kept at Macy's head down Broadway towards Chinatown. "I've never been to New York before," Julie sighs. "Lovely city you got here, Mandy."
"Yeah, it's the same old Big Apple I remember," Mandy glances around. "Someday, I hope, I'll be living here again."
"With me?" Christine pouts.
"What, there's another girl name Christine Moss with hazel eyes, long black hair and could finger-fuck me as good as you?"
"You better remember that," Christine winks.
Jennifer and Julie gaze understandingly at them, then jolt on hearing a man walk up. "Hey, ladies, you look a little lost."
Eyes turn to see several dark-skinned men in ripped jeans and T-shirts swagger up in the classic swarming formation. "Actually, we're quite fine, thank you," Jennifer exchanges knowing looks with Julie. "If you'll excuse us, please, we have to be somewhere..."
"I don't think you get it," one snarls, a switchblade flipping out of his hand.
"No, motherfucker, YOU don't get it!" Mandy snarls, shifting Christine behind her. "Now, take your little gang and amscray!"
"Whoa, what a mouthy bitch...!" another snickers...
...then he is grabbed by George, then tossed into his buddies like a ragdoll. "The ladies said 'no!!'" he tenses, fists cocked and ready. "Leave while you're still able to walk!"
Another snaps his hand into his jacket, reaching for a gun. Julie's eyes widen, then her feet propel her into him, her forearm smashing into his throat like a battering ram! He careens into the sidewalk, the surprise forever frozen on his face. Seeing what the leggy blonde could do, the others take off. Julie pants, then gazes at the punk by her feet, the unnaturalness of his silence harking to something worse than a robotic woman deactivated. "Oh, no..." she gasps, leaping down to his side.
George's and Mandy's hands stop her. "Forget it, Julie. He's already toast," the latter shakes her head.
Julie blinks, the horror of her actions hitting like a flurry of sledgehammers. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry...!" she covers her mouth, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks.
Jennifer runs up to comfort as George waves Jack and Steve up. "It was either him or one of us, Julie," the ex-soldier grunts as they drag the dead thug into a nearby alley, dropping him into a convenient garbage dumpster.
"He's right, but to be on the safe side, let's get moving," Mandy hisses. "Sooner we're out of here, the better."
"Right," Jennifer nods, helping the shaking Julie back up...
"Ah, there you are!" a grandfatherly Chinese man steps out of the Rising Dragon, nodding on seeing the approaching gaggle of robotic people. "Good to see you all free and healthy, yes!"
"Uncle!!" a voice cries out.
Eyes watch as Li-xian, a very shapely immigrant from Hunan province roboticized at the same time as Jennifer, races over to embrace her uncle. "There you are, my precious blossom!" the older man cries, gazing at his weeping niece. "Now you are free!"
"Hey, you never said anything about coming from here," Mandy grins, everyone basking in the warmth of their friend's joy.
Li-xian runs a hand through her tomboyish-cut chestnut hair, grinning at her friends. "I wanted to do something to support my family here, so I came to work at the Pleasure Palace since I studied dance in China," she admits, then looks down. "However, Phil had some other ideas when I started drawing in the crowds."
"We haven't heard from her in five years," her uncle sighs, then points to the open garage. "The cars are there."
"Can you tell us what's going on here, sir?" Julie wonders. "What's with all this cloak-and-dagger stuff?"
"I can't explain, for all our sakes," he sighs. "Admittedly, I don't know the whole story, not even the name of the one who wants to help you. It's best that you go, now. You, too," he stares at Li-xian.
"Uncle..." she gasps.
"You must, lest they find you here, then discover what is happening," he insists. "Don't worry. I know you'll come back when you have the chance. Go, now!"
She tearfully nods, then joins the others as they stream into the garage. Awaiting them are a fleet of six station wagons, plain vehicles which could house three couples in a pinch...and since they were robotic people, the comfort problem wouldn't be as bothersome. "Okay, we've got the keys...and here're wallets with IDs and cash," Mandy reaches inside the first one, then starts tossing them, calling out names.
Julie takes hers, then stares at the driver's license, now declaring her to be Julia Christina Stanfield of Topeka, Ohio. Her birthday was the same as when she was Jeffery Christian Stanfield, along with her Social Security and Ohio driver's license number. Did they alter the birth records in Columbus, too? Who was helping them? Opening the wallet, she whistles on seeing the wad of cash, several hundred dollar's worth in both American Ben Franklin and Canadian Robert Borden notes. Whoever they were, they weren't operating on a shoestring budget.
"By the looks of it, we have friends in very high places," Jennifer muses, gazing at her lover's ID.
"I'll say," Julie sighs. "Okay, let's load up."
In two minutes, the small fleet drives out, turning up Broadway for the long trip to the George Washington Bridge. Riding with Julie are Jennifer, Mandy, Christine, Beth and Li-xian. "Okay, here's the envelope," Jennifer pulls it out.
"Read it," Julie instructs, eyes focused on the road.
Jennifer opens it, then reads:
Our beloved friends,
I represent a small group of concerned relatives, those who lost track of you when those among you were roboticized against your will. We were the ones who lobbied the Nevada government to close down the Pleasure Palace, but it's taken us a long time to arrange for you to leave your current places of 'employment' and make your way to a sanctuary we prepared on your behalf. We can't apologize enough for not ending your suffering sooner, but Philip Merrick has fought long and hard to have his operation restored, uncaring that you might privately desire to engage in a new line of work.
As you read this, you are taking your first steps into a new life. We ask you to proceed to Canada, at the point indicated on the map attached. Memorize this, then burn the pages as soon as you can. Keep moving at all times; your battery chargers will last only a week, then you will run out of power. You should avoid staying at hotels; word of your 'break-out' will get to Merrick soon enough, then he might try anything to stop you. His obsession with the Pleasure Palace has driven him over the edge and he's acquired considerable foreign backing to pressure the Nevada government to overturn their past ruling on the Palace.
We hope to see you soon...and good luck.
Silence falls as the women absorb that. "Hey, that's up in Alberta, near Banff," Christine leans up to flip the page and stare at the map accompanying the letter; she was from neighbouring Montana. "It's in the Rockies. Perfect place to hide, I'll say."
"Might be a ranch of some sort," Julie smiles.
"Geez, what a life we've been through," Mandy crosses her arms as Jennifer flips on the car lighter to get heat to burn the pages. "From our old jobs to being sex robots to mannequins and who knows what else to ranchers! What next?!"
"I don't care; let's go!" Beth urges.
"Alright!" Julie grins. "Banff, here we come!"
"Are you sure about this?"
Phil shudders, gaping slack-jawed at his only assistant left, one of the bouncers, Pete. "We got calls from all over, Boss," the muscular man shrugs. "They all disappeared on us last night."
"How?!!" Phil demands.
"We don't know!" Pete throws up his hands. "Security cameras at all the stores didn't record a thing. The private owners didn't think to keep an extra security watch over the ones they had. They just got up and amscrayed."
"But that is impossible!!" Phil asserts. "They had no charge, no way to get primary power back! And they wouldn't think of escaping...unless they're coming back here!" he blinks, rubbing his chin stubble. "Yes, they just might come back here..."
"Can they make it back on two days power?" Pete muses.
"I...no, not with their orgasm programs!!" Phil shakes his head. "We have to get the word out to keep an eye for them. They won't get too far away. Can our friends help us?"
"I'll call and ask," Pete nods, then heads off...
The Canadian Border-crossing...
"Citizen of what country?"
"America," Julie flashes her most dazzling smile, then is echoed by her companions.
"Purpose of your trip?" the tired customs official wonders, now coming close to the end of the graveyard shift, the sun starting to peek past the Buffalo skyline across the Niagara River.
"We're driving to Banff to see the sights and decided to cross as soon as we could," Julie replies.
"Are you bringing anything into the country?"
"Just our luggage," Mandy points behind her to the suitcases thoughtfully provided by their sponsors for when they had to confront Canada Customs.
"Have a safe trip," he waves them through.
The women grin as Julie guides the car away from the Peace Bridge onto the Queen Elizabeth Way for the trip to Toronto and places north and west. The group from New York had stopped on the I-90 before reaching Buffalo to plan their entry into Ontario, then split apart to cross at all four bridge crossings over the Niagara River so as to not alert the Canadian authorities and possibly expose themselves. While fretful over being caught and dragged back into something even Julie was now wary of being a part of again, the excitement of their escape and flight, plus literally sneaking free under everyone's eyes, kept their spirits up...not to mention other things.
"I miss my orgasm program," Mandy sighs.
"You, too?" Julie looks into the rearview mirror.
"Yeah," Mandy gazes out the window as the Niagara peninsula passes by. "It's hard to believe that our lives were totally dominated by what Phil and Tim did to us."
"Tim's one of us," Julie cuts in.
"What?!!" Christine cries out. "I didn't know that!!"
"It's true," Julie asserts. "According to Phil, the person who first devised the roboticization process did him when they had an argument one day. Remember that one scene we did with Beth one day after she was roboticized, when you showed me stealth and pause mode?" she gazes at Jennifer.
"Oh, that's right!" Jennifer nods. "I was too out of it to see Tim there!!"
"We all were, I think," Beth muses.
"I bet none of you knew this," Mandy smirks. "Jane Lee's a robotic woman, too."
"Jane?!!" Jennifer looks back. "You're kidding!!"
"No shit," Mandy grins.
"How did that happen?" Julie wonders.
"She was stabbed one night after work; I found her when I was getting off work myself from the strip shows," Mandy sighs. "Phil and Tim were able to roboticize her in time to save her life, but since she didn't volunteer to be a robotic woman, she was given the choice to work as staff."
"So that's why you became a robotic woman," Christine stares knowingly at her lover.
"Yeah," Mandy pats Christine's hand.
"And that explains why Jane always felt us up all the time; she was keeping watch on her orgasm program," Li-xian laughs.
"Still, with the way she looked, she should've been on the floor with us," Jennifer sighs. "I wonder where she is now."
"We'll find out soon enough," Julie relaxes, reaching over to gently grasp Jennifer's hand...
* * *
Two hours later, after coming back together outside Saint Catharines, the escapees make their way around the Toronto area, then turn north toward the Trans-Canada Highway and the long journey west. In their car, Julie and Jennifer had switched to the far back, Mandy taking over driving with Christine beside her. Beth and Li-xian are in the middle seats, gazing at the beautiful countryside passing by. "Maybe it would've been easier to take a plane," the former hums.
"And get caught by a metal detector?" Mandy looks at her via the rearview mirror. "Doubt we would've made it far, Beth. Pity our friends couldn't've whipped up a private jet."
"Might have been too noticeable," Christine sighs. "I don't know about you girls, but I'll be glad when this is over with."
"What do you suppose'll happen when we get there?" Li-xian sighs. "I mean, what could they do to help us? We could never go back to being human again."
"Maybe they've discovered a way to give us self-rechargeable power packs," Julie hums, her arms full of a blissfully dozing Jennifer; their new programming also came with a "sleep" protocol that allowed them the chance to rest their minds. "Once our power problems are solved, we're as free as we could ever be."
"But could we be accepted even if people understood we were once human?" Li-xian looks back.
"Hard to tell," Julie yawns, her own sleep protocols coming on line. "I mean, the Palace was pretty well-known, but that was via adult magazines. Not exactly mainstream stuff...besides, we never had the chance to watch the news..." she yawns again.
The others fall silent as she drifts off. "She's the real lucky one, I think," Christine quietly muses. "She volunteered for this all the way through; outside of what happened to Paul, she really had no regrets becoming one of us."
"Hey, you were the same way, remember?" Mandy hums.
"True, but I worked at the place for a while before I got roboticized," Christine shrugs. "Besides, they were pressing me into doing it since everyone liked me so much."
Mandy bites her lip. "I'm glad they did."
"'Cause how could we've met if they didn't?"
Christine blinks, her cheeks flaming from Mandy's hidden words. "That's true," she leans over to kiss her lover.
"In fact..." Mandy sighs, pulling over.
"What's wrong?" Beth wonders.
When the car stops, Mandy turns, gently grasping Christine's hands. "Christine, will you handfast with me?"
Silence, Christine now totally shocked by Mandy's words. Beth and Li-xian gape at the couple before them, both wondering how the former would respond. "Mandy..."
"Say 'yes, I will!'" Mandy winks.
"Yes...yes, oh, yes, YES!!!!" Christine laughs, fiercely embracing her fiancee. "Oh, Mandy, I love you so much!!"
"What's going on...?" a sleepy Julie rises.
"Mandy just proposed to Christine!!" Beth reports, then leaps out of the car as the others stop behind them to pass the news.
Julie blinks, her mind trying to get back on gear, then as it hits her, her eyes fall on a still-dozing Jennifer. Well, there's a little something to think about at the next pit stop...
"There's still nothing?!" Phil demands.
Pete shakes his head. "Not a lick, Boss. Whoever arranged for this to happen is one major player."
Phil growls. "Our sponsors will be very disappointed if we don't get them back," he warns, then stares at his chief. "Have the search teams look again...and be thorough about it this time."
"No problem," Pete nods, then heads out.
Sighing, Phil walks into the changing room, now cleaned of a year of dust and dirt and restored to full function. Sitting by the computer, he stares at the immobile forms standing nearby, their bodies complete. Beautiful adult bodies, though the minds within them, now being downloaded from the computer after they were digitalized and programmed, were a different story.
Shortly after the Palace was closed down and the robotic people scattered, he was approached by agents from many foreign businessmen, those who had frequented the Pleasure Palace and wanted to see it restored. Promising him capital to force the local government to reverse its decision, they supplied scientists to reconstruct the groundbreaking research work lost when Tim McLean vanished with his lover Jane Lee.
Along the way, they discovered something else. Try as Tim might, there was no way to permanently ERASE one's memories and morals after roboticization. The initial research had been carefully done to ensure that nothing could be lost when a mind was digitalized; the science that made the Palace a reality was originally designed to create robotic people for a hazardous environment such as deep space or another planet. Therefore, with some re-programming, the robotic people...especially those converted against their will like Paul Carter and Elizabeth Howard...could be restored to free-thinking beings. Phil had to admit it now that Pete had told him about their failure to locate the escapees; whoever was behind this knew that, thus it was safe to assume the robotic people were now unshackled of their conditioning. Even if he could get them back, re-programming the conditioning would just be a band-aid solution.
Thus, his backers from abroad, who had been kept abreast of the work here had come onto the "perfect" solution: children. It was possible to convert a child into an adult sex robot since the serum used to commence roboticization was designed to loosen one's internal organs...and with judicious uses of cybernetics and growth hormones, they could be matured to late teen years in the blink of an eye. Even better, their minds were unfettered by experience, totally innocent, not programmed by society's sometimes harsh touch. Load in all the programming and they were the perfect sex robots.
Phil had cringed on their use at first, but his assistants had warned that many were from very poor countries where their chances at reaching adulthood naturally were nil. Many of them were HIV-positive (diseases like AIDS were cleansed by the roboticization process), taken from brothels in countries where child prostitution was a given. Most were orphans, having never known a kind hand in their miserable lives. And looks and racial backgrounds were easily changed at the Pleasure Palace; the two blonde California beach girl-types standing before him were formally from Kenya.
The door behind him opens, revealing a sultry green-eyed redhead who had been born in Calcutta's slums, now in a see-through opaque gown and lace panties. "Phil, dear," she draws her arms around him, kissing the back of his neck. "It's time for bed."
Phil shudders, gazing at Ophelia, his primary urges and he drive to see the Palace restored overcoming his conscience's feeble squeaks over making love to the robotic child-woman before him...
Somewhere in The Great White North...
Six hours after clearing Toronto, the caravan passes through Sault Sainte Marie, following the Trans-Canada Highway over the hump of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay. By now, Beth and Li-xian had taken over the front seat, the newly-engaged Mandy and Christine getting needed sleep in the far back. "Hey, can we get to a mall?" Jennifer yawns. "I don't know about you, but I want to get out and stretch my legs for a bit."
"That's not a bad idea...oh, there's one!" Beth nods as she guides the car off the highway.
The caravan stops near a Wal-Mart, everyone stumbling out to stretch themselves, then gather around Julie's car. "Okay, we should stay here only for a half-hour, then get going," she stares at the others. "Try not to splurge too much with your cash; we might need it when we cross into Manitoba."
"I'll get a travel guide," Jennifer runs off.
"Hey, is there a sex shop around here?" Melissa smiles.
"We got no time for that, idiot!" Mandy snaps at her. "Can't you get one of the guys to boff you if you're horny?!"
"But I want to make love to Kim!" Melissa pouts.
The others moan. Julie shakes her head, then everyone breaks off. Her first stop is a newsstand advertising international magazines and newspapers. Time, MacLeans and Newsweek fill her hands, not to mention the latest tabloids, the local papers and copies of the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. A headline from the latter leaps at her:
MACY'S ROBOT-MANNEQUINS STOLEN!
Julie blinks surprisedly, then after paying for the magazines, heads
out, her eyes spotting a People's Jewellers down the corridor. Stuffing
the other magazines under her armpit, she scans through the Times...
A mysterious occurrence robbed Macy's Broadway store last night of thirty mannequins which unnamed sources have now revealed were in fact androids, colloquially known as 'robotic people,' once used at the Pleasure Palace of Las Vegas, closed down last year due to public outrage over assumed forced roboticization of several of its workers. This came parallel to similar incidents across the country reported by AP at press time. It is estimated that 300 of these robotic people are now on the loose across the country. How they were able to be powered up and make their escape is unknown.
The former owner of the Palace, Philip Merrick, has demanded FBI assistance in retrieving his former android workers, but a spokesman for the Bureau's New York office has reported that while local police units will be alerted to their escape, they will be humanely detained and will not be returned to the Pleasure Palace pending a ruling from the Department of Labor over their actual legal status. If it is proven that these people were born human, Merrick could be charged with violating the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery; and the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing all American citizens the right of life, liberty and freedom of movement. Merrick was unavailable for comment at press time...
Slavery? Julie blinks, staring nowhere in particular. Was this what her dream, the dream of the others who had willingly become robotic people at the Palace, had lead? Was this the reason the Palace was shut down? Yes, what happened to Paul, Beth and the others forced through roboticization was wrong, but where was the balance, the right place to draw the line, between reality and dreams? She liked being a sex robot, wouldn't mind if she had to spend the rest of her life this way, but certainly wouldn't force it on those who didn't want it. Sighing, she wipes her cheeks, then stuffs the Times under her armpit, standing.
She heads for the jewellery store. A clerk perks up on seeing her. "Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Yes, I'm looking for an engagement band for my lover," Julie smiles. "Something nice and simple."
"A lesbian relationship?"
"Yes," Julie grins.
"Here's one," the clerk pulls out one box from her display case, revealing twin gold bands etched with two intertwined hearts, a diamond in the middle. Taking one, she slips it onto Julie's finger, then gazes admiringly at her unblemished skin. "You really have such lovely skin! How do you do it?"
Julie shrugs. "Just taking care of myself," she smiles, then stares at the ring, which perfectly fit her finger.
"Is your fiancee the same size?"
"Yes, she is. This is perfect."
The clerk rings up the till, then packs the engagement bands. Julie jolts on hearing Mandy's voice. "I guess we both had the same idea, huh?" the latter slaps her friend's back.
"Guess so," the former snickers, noting Kim had accompanied the other robotic woman to the shop, then looks at the clerk. "I hope you've got more for my friends and their fiancees, too."
"Right over here," she waves Mandy and Kim over...
* * *
Sometime later, everyone laughs and embraces each other as Mandy slips the studded diamond engagement band on Christine's finger, the former on one knee. Right beside her, Julie also makes her proposal, slipping a ring on Jennifer's finger. There's not a dry eye around as Christine and Jennifer fit the other rings on Mandy's and Julie's fingers, then the newly engaged couples kiss. "I just love happy endings," Li-xian dabs her cheek.
"You two really are made for each other," Steve walks over to kiss them on the cheeks. "Good luck."
"Isn't it weird?" George hums.
"What?" Jack stares at him.
"I mean, we still don't know a thing about what'll happen to us when we get to Banff, but here we are moving to start families and all that. Isn't that strange?"
"What's so strange about it, Jack?" Beth smiles. "After all, the Palace stole our dreams when they stole our freedom, too. We're just being human by touching base with those dreams again."
"Speaking of which, good thing I got this," Julie holds up the Times. "You better read what they're saying about us."
Everyone gathers around as Mandy scans the article. "Well, at least we don't have our pictures plastered on the papers," she muses. "Hope the news hasn't leaked up here."
"The Globe and Mail seems clean," Jennifer looks over the Canadian newspaper. "I guess we made it."
"At least if the police catch some of our friends before they make it to the border, they won't get chucked back to the Palace," Christine sighs. "Let's just hope Phil's friends don't try to pull something stupid."
"I hope our sponsors have something planned just in case," Julie muses, then hands out the other newspapers and magazines. "Okay, what say we make tracks for the Lakehead?"
"Wait, where's Melissa?!" Kim cries out.
A taxi drives up, the shotgun door opening to reveal the blonde robotic woman. "Thank you," she tips the driver, then draws out a large box from the back seat.
"Where the hell did you go?!" Mandy demands.
"Don't scream!" Melissa pouts, then shows the box. "I just went and raided a sex shop downtown."
Everyone jolts on seeing the array of lingerie, briefs and sexual aides she had obtained. "What the hell did you do that for?!" Mandy barks at her. "We got no time for this, you nitwit!! Can't you keep your mind on business for once?!"
"But I got you your favourite red crotchless panties," Melissa leers. "Not to mention a strap-on dildo for Christine to use."
Mandy jerks, then slyly grins. "I don't know whether to kiss you or kill you, so I'll make love to you instead!"
"That's the spirit!" Melissa winks.
Everyone laughs save Kim, who has a haughty pout as she looks away from her lover. "Gee, I wonder where her loyalties are anyway?" she glares at Julie.
Melissa's breath falls on the brunette's neck. "I didn't forget you, my pet," she purrs seductively. "I got some nice handcuffs and a whip so you can have all the fun on me you want. After all, I've been SUCH a bad girl recently. I deserve punishment."
Kim shudders in anticipation as everyone falls over howling. "Let's get going before ditz-for-brains really makes us late!" Mandy waves everyone to the cars.
"I'm not a ditz!!" Melissa yells...
* * *
Time passes as the convoy makes its way west. Another day of hard travel finds them clearing Ontario, passing through Manitoba and entering Saskatchewan. By now, the number of cars have increased to triple the original length as groups from Detroit, Chicago and Saint Louis, travelling up the Mississippi valley to enter Canada at Estevan, Manitoba, tag up. With their new server transmission abilities, the robotic people are able to keep in contact with the other groups. For Julie, it is both a joyous and sad time; joyous that so many had made it to freedom and sad that Paul was nowhere in sight.
Another day and the looming Rockies appear to the west as the convoy finally passes through Calgary, driving into the foothills near Banff. They are to get off the Trans-Canada Highway just before the boundary of Banff National Park, entering a large ranch that was spread out over thousands of hectares. "It should be around here somewhere," Jennifer watches as everyone scans the countryside for an entrance.
"Hey, what's that?!" Mandy points right.
Everyone looks, Julie breaking the car as the fleet of wagons pulls alongside. There is no worry about a collision; the traffic in both directions is slowed down as motorists gape at the huge crystalline snowflake-like construct, as tall as the CN Tower in Toronto, firmly planted into the ground behind a large ranch house. Along the roadside, people stare at the beautiful sight, tourists with their cameras out and snapping pictures. "Man, now THAT'S something you don't regularly see," Mandy muses.
"What do you suppose that is?" Beth wonders.
A knock is heard at the driver's side window. Julie looks to see a stoic-looking man in a dark business suit and sunglasses staring at her. "Yes?" she rolls down the window.
"Miss Julie Stanfield?"
"Yes, that's me," Julie nods.
He draws a picture, does a comparison, then points to a nearby entrance. "Drive in there, please, ma'am."
Julie watches him walk back to the other cars, then stares at her companions. "I guess we're here," Jennifer shrugs.
"Let's go," Julie sighs.
The wagons nit their way through the clogged traffic, then turn onto the paved driveway towards the distant ranch house and its looming alien neighbour. The stone gate on both sides of the driveway have a Scottish clan badge on them, a hunting falcon in flight surrounded by the motto Touch Not The Falcon. Guards stand by the gate, waving the caravan in and keeping the curious out. "What is this place?" Li-xian looks around.
"I don't know, but if they're the ones who helped us, I think we're in pretty good hands," Christine hums.
"Or we might be in worse trouble than being in the Palace," Mandy crosses her arms, ever pessimistic.
Another guard, this one dressed in fatigues and shouldering a rifle, waves the caravan into parking spots. Julie is quick to note other station wagons, license plates from several dozen American states on their bumpers. "Yeah, this is it, alright," she nods as everyone steps out.
A spiffily dressed officer walks up, smartly saluting them. "I trust you all had a pleasant journey," he waves them to the imposing ranch house. "The Dame Victoria is awaiting you inside."
The robotic people exchange shocked looks. "Dame Victoria?!" Christine gapes. "As in...Dame Victoria McTavish?!!"
"The same," the officer nods.
Everyone staggers, stunned that Earth's richest woman had been their supporter. With that, they stream into the ranch house, the soldiers working as part of the McTavish Clan's large private army snapping to attention and presenting arms as they pass. In a moment, they stream into a large auditorium, where a sea of familiar faces awaits them.
"Julie!!!" a man cries out.
Julie turns, then is nearly crushed by Paul's embrace. "Oh, Paul!!" she sobs, tenderly kissing him, then looking down. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..."
"Hey, it's okay," he cups her chin to turn her eyes towards his. "You didn't know what they'd do to me and you couldn't do a thing to stop it when they did. It's okay. Besides, what sort of friend'd I be if I didn't help you get your dream?"
Julie laughs, then kisses him again before spotting another pair of familiar faces. "Tim, Jane!!!" she breaks away from Paul.
"Oh, Julie, you look great!!" Jane laughs, embracing her, then pulls up her hand and the ring. "Whoa, when did this happen?!"
"Back in the Soo," Julie grins, then notices the wedding band on Jane McLean's finger. "And when did you and Tim marry?!"
"Shortly after we came up here when the Palace shut down," she bites her lips. "We'll explain it soon enough."
"Okay, everyone, can you take your seats, please?!" Tim heads to the podium by the front stage. "I'm sure you all want to get re-acquainted with each other, but we've got some business to handle first and we want to get it done now."
Everyone sits down, the noise quieting down as Jane joins her husband on stage. "Okay, first of all, I'm glad to see you here alive and well without a scratch," Tim smiles. "I'm happy to note that only six were detained by local police as they were leaving Dallas, but our gracious host has many friends down in Texas and they should be flown up here as soon as possible. Right now, you should have five days power left in your ankle chargers, but I can now guarantee that you'll never need them again."
"We're getting new power packs?" Jennifer blinks.
"Much more than that, Jen," Tim smiles, nodding to Jane.
She walks out of the room, then returns a moment later, a small bundle of joy dozing in her hands. Everyone gasps as the proud parents display their child. "Everyone, may I present our daughter, Shannon McLean."
"But...we can't have children!!" Mandy objects.
"No, not as you are now," Tim nods as Jane steps down to allow everyone a closer look. "You may remember a month before the Palace closed down that we hosted a couple out on their second honeymoon: Nicole and Mujanba McTavish."
Jennifer and Julie are two who nod; they were the McTavishes' hosts. "Well, they were quick to figure out what was going on at the Palace, so when the citizens' committee dedicated to shutting us down got to work, they contacted Jane and I and offered us the chance...to restore all of us back to full humanity."
Silence as his words sink in. "Is that possible?!!" Beth gasps.
"Quite possible, Beth," Tim nods. "Remember, a lot of your body parts are still organic, with the necessary DNA and RNA to act as the building blocks to give you whole new bodies if need be. Nicole and Mujanba perfected a nanite which can rebuild your mechanical parts, transforming them into basic silicon and allowing them to be moulded into similcra of natural internal organs. Once that's done, an enzyme is injected in to convert the silicon to hydro-carbons and proteins matched to your body's DNA and RNA strands. Jane and I underwent the process a week after the Palace closed down. Conversion time is five days. We got married a week after," he chuckles, nodding to their child.
Everyone beams. "Now, a lot of you underwent considerable physical modification while you were roboticized," Tim adds. "I can guarantee that if you want to keep those changes, they'll stay in place; all you have to do is tell us and we'll make sure of it. Lifespan DNA cloned from Mujanba will also be inserted, giving you a very long time to enjoy a emotionally satisfying life, rebuild yourselves after what happened at the Palace."
"But what about those who became robotic people willingly?" Beth then wonders.
"I can answer that," Julie sighs.
Everyone looks to her as she stands to face them. "Look, I came to the Palace one day to see my fondest wish fulfilled," she points to herself. "Believe me, my life wasn't worth much to me before I became a robotic woman. If I stay as a sex robot, I'd be pretty happy. But my dream became my best friend's nightmare," she points to Paul. "I feel very guilty over that. I'm sure all of us who came to the Palace willingly feel the same way. And I say that while I enjoyed being a robotic woman, I won't risk anyone else being hurt by it by any means possible. As a robotic woman, I can be re-programmed to do a lot worse than just stand by and allow Paul and Beth and everyone else to be transformed against their wills. To ensure that doesn't happen again, I'm going back to being organic. I hope all of you will do the same."
She sits as people applaud. "Okay, we will grant you the chance to make up your minds," Tim nods. "Nicole and Mujanba have things ready in their crystal palace behind the house. When you make up your minds, you'll be taken in right away."
* * *
"Julie, that was the most beautiful, gutsiest thing I ever heard anyone say," Mandy tenderly kisses her in their guest room later. "I'll bet we'll all go through this when it's over with."
"I hope I'm ready for it," Julie admits as she relaxes beside Jennifer. "After all, I know what being a robotic woman is like, but what about being an organic woman."
"So it's good-bye Jeff forever, right?" Christine hums.
"Yep...unless you have objections," Julie stares at Jennifer.
"I love YOU, dummy!" the latter thumps the former's arm, then embraces her. "And I'll love no one else BUT you!!"
"What about us?!" Christine pouts.
"You know what I mean," Jennifer laughs.
Everyone smiles. Yes, they enjoyed making love to each other and sharing other intimacies. They cared for each other as part of a wonderful, warm family now recovering from a terrible tragedy which had left permanent scars in their souls. And they would stay in contact with each other, care for each other still even if they elected to choose just one as their permanent life-mate.
"Why don't we live with each other as a group?" Julie muses.
"We'd have to decide what to do with ourselves first," Mandy reminds them. "Not to mention where we'd live."
"Let's worry about that later," Jennifer sighs, then turns as a knock is heard. "Come in!"
"Hello, everyone!" a familiar raven-haired woman with hazel eyes and tapered ears steps into the room.
"Mujanba!!" Julie rises, embracing Nicole's life-mate. "How are you...oh, thank you, thank you so much!!"
"What would you expect after we found out about you?" Mujanba laughs, then stares at the others. "Okay, there's one other thing Tim forgot to pass onto you when you were in the auditorium."
"What's that?" Christine wonders.
"Well, since all four of you've elected to be couples, Nicole and I decided we'd help you make your lives a bit easier," Mujanba hums. "In Japan, we live beside a group of aliens called Nendo-kata. They're an all-female race who reproduce by a natural form of parthenogenesis. We copied the DNA strands governing their reproductive abilities into us some years back and it's worked very well for us. For those of you who want to form relationships with other women, Nicole and I're prepared to give you the same chance."
"You're kidding!" Mandy gapes. "You mean if Chris and I didn't want a guy to father our kids, we could do it ourselves?"
"Exactly," Mujanba nods. "Now, I warn you that if you chose to do this, you can NEVER have a baby with a man. So before you say yes or no, think it over."
"We will," Jennifer nods. "Thanks, Mujanba."
* * *
"So you're gonna do it?"
"Yeah," Julie nods as she and Paul relax on the ranch house's veranda, gazing at the imposing bulk of the crystal palace Nicole found decades ago in an alien dimension called the Outland. "I love Jen, she loves me and we wouldn't want it any other way. I mean, I might still have sex with men, but pretty soon, we'll all outgrow the need to just have it and settle down."
"That's good," Paul sighs. "I mean, it wasn't rough, but the Pleasure Palace was an escape from reality. Phil felt justified in roboticizing those who wanted to leave like Beth. It isn't right by any stretch of the imagination, but at least we now understand his reasons why."
"Yeah, that's true," Julie stares at him. "So, what happened to you? You wind up in a department store?"
"No, actually, I was picked up by a wealthy old couple who wanted a companion for their daughter," Paul hands Julie a picture. "Wendy Hardiman; she lives down in Salt Lake City. She's blind and crippled from the waist down, so she really needs a live-in caregiver. I needed some augmentation to my programming so I could be her nurse as well as her bed-partner."
"You love her, don't you?" Julie smiles.
"I do," Paul nods. "When I get out of this place, I'm heading back down there and I'm gonna marry that girl."
"That's good," Julie kisses him.
"I was going to ask you to be my best man, so how'd you like to be my maid of honour?" he grins.
"I'd love to," she beams.
* * *
A week later, Salt Lake City...
"Paul, is that you?"
Wendy frowns, then smiles as a firm hand gently grasps hers. "Hi, honey, I'm home," Paul kisses her.
"Paul, something's happened to you," the pretty auburn-haired woman tenses. "What's wrong? Why did you run away...?"
"I didn't run away; I just had to go somewhere," Paul calms her. "Wendy, someone found a way to reverse the roboticization process. I'm fully human now; all of us from the Palace are."
"What?!" Wendy's dull eyes widen. "You mean it?!"
"Yeah, I mean it," Paul smiles, then pulls out a velvet case and opens it. "Wendy, will you marry me?"
Wendy gasps as she feels a ring slip around her finger, then crying out, embraces him. "Oh, yes!!!"
Nearby, Julie and Jennifer exchange knowing smiles. Even with the restraints forced on him by the Palace, Paul had found true love caring for this lonely girl few others would be hard pressed to care for given her disabilities. Gently grasping hands, the couple joins their newly engaged friends for dinner...
...not knowing that a listening device implanted in a nearby tree had passed on that bombshell to a listening post outside the Hardiman mansion. Inside the makeshift shack, Pete shudders. If someone had found a way to overcome the Pleasure Palace's roboticization process, then attempts by Phil to create new robotic people would be stopped. This had to be passed down right away...
To Be Concluded...?