Jirena woke to find herself sitting in a small office. Facing her across the desk was an attractive, conservatively-dressed woman in her mid-thirties, perhaps ten years older than Jirena herself.
“Good morning, Jirena Saldrin,” said the woman. “You may call me Amara. I believe you can guess where you are.”
Jirena’s head was muzzy, as if she had been drugged, but the stranger’s quiet words seemed to blow away the fog.
“The Agency,” she muttered. “I’d heard rumours about it, of course, but I never quite believed it existed.”
“Oh, we exist, I assure you,” said Amara, “and if you’ve heard of us then you’ve heard of what we do.”
“Yes,” said Jirena, wondering why she was not feeling more afraid. “The Agency makes people disappear. People who’ve become... inconvenient.”
Amara smiled. “Exactly. And let me assure you, we are very good at what we do.”
“So I’ve heard,” Jirena murmured. “How many have you disappeared in the last ten years? Nine hundred? A thousand?”
“I suppose that would be about right,” replied Amara. “I don’t recall the exact figure. Besides, some people manage to disappear of their own accord. I’m biased toward our method, of course.”
“All right,” said Jirena. “Who was it? Who hired you to get rid of me?”
“Oh, come now, miss Saldrin,” said Amara, “you can hardly expect me to tell you that.”
“Why not?” Jirena demanded. “If I’m going to vanish anyway, I’ll hardly be in a position to breach your confidentiality, will I?”
“True enough,” Amara conceded, “But it’s the principle of the thing. Besides, knowing won’t change anything except your state of mind, and despite what you might think we really don’t wish to cause you undue distress.”
“I suppose that’s why you drugged me,” said Jirena. “If I was in my right mind I think I’d be screaming right now.”
“Actually we use mood-adjusting nanobots,” said Amara. “The technology’s not on the open market yet, but it allows for much more precise emotional control and doesn’t cause any unpleasant side effects.”
“How considerate,” said Jirena. “I suppose there’s probably no point trying to bribe you into releasing me.”
“Of course not. We do have standards to maintain. Besides, not all of our commissions are for money.”
“What, then? Political power? Energy contracts? Sexual favours?”
Amara smiled wryly. “Let’s just say we’re doing all right for ourselves.”
Jirena sighed. “So what now? Will somebody be coming to dump my body in quicklime?”
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” said Jirena.
“I’m sorry,” said Amara. “It’s just that you’re making the same assumption that most of our commissions do. I don’t think one in a hundred have ever figured out the truth.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Never mind, Jirena,” said Amara reassuringly. “You’ll understand soon enough.”
So saying, she pushed a button on her desk and a concealed door opened in the side wall. Jirena lacked the willpower to resist as Amara led her through the door into a small empty room with bare walls and floor.
“All right,” said Amara. ”Let’s just get you ready.”
Amara began removing Jirena’s clothes. Jirena found herself unable to resist.
”Don’t worry,” said Amara. “we never take advantage of our commissions.”
Once Jirena was naked Amara led her forward. Set into the stone floor were a pair of foot-shaped recesses. Jirena was surprised to find that her feet matched the shape of the recesses precisely. Once her feet were in place she began to feel a tingling sensation, spreading slowly from her soles to the rest of her body. It was a strange feeling, but not at all unpleasant.
Amara meanwhile picked up Jirena’s discarded clothing and threw it into a recycling chute.
“Amara,” breathed Jirena, “What’s happening to me? I can’t move!”
“This is just the first stage of the process,” said Amara. ”Don’t worry, it’s completely painless. You see, our nanobots do much more than control emotions. They can alter the physical characteristics of matter as well.”
“I... don’t... under... stand,” said Jirena, struggling to speak.
“Did you know, Jirena,” said Amara, “that in the last ten years almost a thousand nude statues have been donated to public parks, town squares and art galleries all over this continent?”
“No,” breathed Jirena. “It... can’t... be!”
Amara continued: “All those statues are made from a hard-wearing artificial stone that’s easy to clean and virtually unbreakable. They’ll still look as pristine as they do today in a thousand years’ time... maybe a million. Isn’t it amazing what modern technology can do?”
With an effort, Jirena managed to speak. “Your... Agency... gets rid of... inconvenient... people... by turning... them into... statues?”
“Yes, Jirena,” said Amara. “They are our commissions. Our art commissions. And you are the latest.”
Almost without her noticing, Jirena’s body slowly moved of its own accord. Her right hand extended itself invitingly, while her left raised itself to a position just below her breasts. Her left leg moved forward into a contrapposto stance, while a warm smile spread across her face.
Soon her pose was finalised, and her body froze into position.
Other cosmetic changes were taking place at the same time. Jirena’s hair was reshaped into a classical style, becoming a solid, lightweight mass. The fine hairs on her body were absorbed, along with all of her birthmarks, the small mole on her left buttock that her lovers had found so endearing, and her appendectomy scar. Her pubic and armpit hairs were also absorbed, and her crotch became smooth and featureless.
Throughout the entire process Jirena remained fully conscious, able to see, hear, feel and think normally. As Amara had promised, she felt no pain. She felt strangely calm and mildly euphoric. Without the nanobots controlling her emotions she would probably have been hysterical.
Finally the process was done. Jirena was a work of art, inanimate but alive.
“You look beautiful,” said Amara, placing a hand on Jirena’s shoulder. “A neoclassical goddess in marble. I’m going to recommend that you be placed in a public square, where there’ll be lots of activity for you to observe. Thanks to the nanobots you will never become bored or unhappy, and your memories of your old life will seem like a distant dream.”
It was true. Already the touch of Amara’s hand was generating a physical and emotional warmth that was beginning to wash away all recollection of her past life.
Yes, she thought. I’m a goddess. A marble goddess, to be worshipped from afar.
The more she thought about it, the more her euphoria grew.
I’m a statue, she thought. I’m never going to move again.
The thought made her euphoria even stronger.
Amara said, “Farewell, Jirena. Be happy.”
Then she kissed Jirena on the lips, and Jirena’s nanobots took her to an orgasmic plateau of ecstasy that lasted a very long time.
The stone square on which Jirena stood rose out of the floor to become a freestanding pedestal. Machinery lifted the pedestal onto a trolley, and Amara watched the frozen Jirena being wheeled out of the processing chamber toward her new life as a work of art.
With a sigh Amara returned to her office.
She knew it was supposed to be just a job, that she shouldn’t feel any emotional attachment to her commissions. She certainly wasn’t supposed to fall in love with them. But her emotions weren’t controlled by nanobots, so how could she help it?
Not long afterward, Amara was summoned to her Supervisor’s office.
Supervisor Ryell appeared to be no older than Amara herself, which had led to inevitable rumours that she had used the nanobots to rejuvenate herself.
“Congratulations, Operative,” she said. ”One hundred successful commissions in the past seven years. That’s an impressive record.”
“Thank you, Supervisor.”
“You may be interested to know,” said Ryell, ”I passed on your recommendation concerning your most recent commission. She has been installed in the main square of a major city, where she’ll be able to observe all the hustle and bustle.”
“That’s good of you, Supervisor. I do feel it’s important to look after our commissions’ welfare even after processing.”
“Quite” said Ryell. ”However, that doesn’t mean we can become sentimental concerning which commissions we are allocated.”
Amara found herself becoming strangely calm and euphoric.
“I... I understand,” she muttered.
Supervisor Ryell merely nodded, and pressed the button that opened her side door.
Amara knew there was no escape. The nanobots were already working on her body. With a deep breath she stood and allowed Ryell to lead her into the processing chamber.
“I suppose nobody is unexpendable,” said Amara, looking pointedly at Ryell.
“I’m aware of that,” said Ryell quietly. “When my time comes I think I’d like to be placed in a museum, where I can look at lots of other statues and wonder which ones may be looking back at me.”
Amara removed her clothing and stepped into the foot recesses.
“Supervisor,” she said, while she could still speak: “I know it’s a little irregular, but... do you think... it might be possible... to have... me placed... opposite... Jirena? I... think... she’d... appreciate... the... i... ron... y......”