The track on the floor curved through a thick metal door. As Floraís assembly turned the corner, she saw a long rectangular set of machines lined up in front of her. A grid had been built over the implements, connecting them together and making the whole works look something like some madmanís idea of a Tunnel of Love or drive-in car wash.
As Flora faced forward helplessly, unable to scream, her body frozen in place as much from the drug as from the straps, she saw lights begin to blink on the machines, and she was pulled inexorably in. ĎI didnít do anything!í she screamed inside, futilely. ĎI did nothing wrong!í
ĎHow could this happen to me?í
* * * *
The old man, feeling especially like an old man today, wearily put his glasses to the side. He shut his eyes and sighed deeply. Reaching up, the tension plainly readable on his face, he dug gently at the corners of his eyes with a trembling forefinger and thumb. He leaned his head over his desk and heard the door to his right close loudly and very finally.
ĎIt isnít fair,í he thought, not for the first time that day. ĎIt just isnít fair.í
Someone knocked at the other door at the front of the study. The old man jerked up and looked at the clock on the wall, not immediately believing what he was seeing.
ĎAlready? It canít be.í But he saw it was. No mystery, either. He had just taken too long with his last appointment. It was only luck she hadnít walked in while he was still talking with her aunt. Hardening himself, he resolved not to do that again. He had an unfortunately busy afternoon. He still had six meetings after this next one.
Quickly, the man sniffed softly and rubbed his face with a handkerchief. He took a deep cleansing breath and cleared his thoughts, the rehearsed words again coming to mind. He had used them often enough that morning, after all, and for most his life, for that matter, in way or another. "Come in," he said when he was ready. He tried to look professional.
The door cracked open, and young Yvonne stuck her head in. Young, beautiful Yvonne.
ĎDammit, it just wasnít fair!í
"You wanted to see me, Uncle Albert?"
"Yes, please, come in and sit down." The old man stood up and met his youngest niece as she walked in. He gestured for her to sit down. As she did so, he gently closed the door behind them so they could have some privacy. ĎEighteen?í he tried to remember. ĎNineteen, maybe?í She had graduated from the expensive private school his brother had sent her sometime last year, so she was probably eighteen, but he couldnít recollect exactly. She still looked all of twelve to his eyes.
"I have some bad news, Yvonne," he said softly as he came around the back of his desk again. Albert saw her chirpily happy expression change, and he made an effort to see his brotherís daughter just as he would any other young woman.
"Is it my Dad?" she asked anxiously. "Is he O.K.?" Her face paled in sudden alarm. Her father had a heart condition. The doctors had said a second heart attack might be fatal.
"Your fatherís fine," Albert reassured her, lying smoothly. Honestly, his brother wasnít doing well at all. None of them were, in fact, but he could hardly tell his niece that, could he? At least not that way. The truth would be revealed to her in its own fashion.
He tried to look at Yvonne objectively. It was difficult, the memories of the little girl she had been getting in the way of what he thought was a proper assessment, but he tried nonetheless. Ultimately, whether she was eighteen or nineteen really didnít matter, he thought. Either way, she was in the prime of her life, clear-skinned and lovely. Her dark hair was long and shined with vibrancy. She was a little short, perhaps, but Albert judged her overall figure well-proportioned. She would do well.
"The family has suffered a setback, Yvonne. Iím afraid we wonít be able to send you to that university in Switzerland like we had discussed."
"But . . but you and Dad promised!" Anger replaced the fear she had felt just a second earlier. She became indignant, her voice strident. "All my friends are going there! I have to go!" She stood. Tears welled up in her eyes. They had always worked before.
Uncle Albert shook his head. "No. And itís not just a question of money. I wish it were. Things are going to have to change around here."
"Thatís not fair. Dad said if I improved my grades I could go, and I did. You saw my graduation scores. I have to go to Switzerland."
"No, Iím afraid not."
"You and Dad promised! I did my part, now do your . . . ."
"Stop it!" Albert yelled at her, getting to his feet again behind the desk. His niece shook with surprise and shrank back in the chair. "I donít need that attitude today, so donít even start." Her uncle suddenly looked disgusted with her. "Just . . .. donít."
"It . . itís the best school in the world, Uncle." She was flustered. It was the only thing she could say. Albert pitied her, but truly he saw her as a spoiled child. Nothing had ever been denied her, not that they had ever wanted to, but he could see now the difficulty she had accepting his pronouncement because of it. "Itís for my future."
He sat back down. "You have responsibilities, child. The family comes first. Thatís what youíve always been taught, hasnít it?"
"But . . but why?" Yvonne could hardly believe what he was saying. Nobody had ever said this to her before. "What happened?" She began crying real tears.
Albert glanced at the clock. He had time.
"Your father and I, and some of your other relatives in the business, we made a mistake recently." He felt a lump in his throat as he said it. "A serious mistake. We backed the wrong person in a . . . well, I suppose youíd call it a hostile takeover. She lost."
"You made a mistake," Yvonne said, crying, "and now I have to pay for it. Itís not fair."
Albert nodded. "I agree. Itís not fair." He felt near tears himself.
"Whatís going to happen? Whatís going to change?" Yvonne couldnít believe the family had lost all its money. That was simply impossible. What would happen to her?
Albert swallowed thickly. "Iím not sure yet. Weíre still making arrangements. Paying penalties." He put a hand to his face. "Did you know . . know once we were a very prominent family in show business?"
Yvonne did but didnít see how that had anything to do with what was going on with her. Her uncle reached into his lower desk drawer and pulled out a bottle and a pair of glasses. He began to pour them both a drink. He offered one to Yvonne.
"Uncle, I donít want a drink. I want to know whatís going on."
"The Avatars once owned a fine circus," Albert said. He didnít look at his niece. "Many, many years ago. Over eight generations, from our native Greece to all the great capitals of Europe. We were once the best."
"Uncle . . . Uncle Albert, I donít understand . . ."
"But then we ran into financial problems. There was a war, between France and Prussia, and we lost everything almost in one day. And so we made a deal. We had to make a deal. A person came to us, a very unusual person, and he offered us a way out."
"Uncle. Listen to me. I want to know whatís going on. Please."
"Drink your drink, and Iíll tell you. Here, weíll make a toast." He clinked his glass gently against hers. "To the family." He sipped. Yvonne, after a momentís hesitation, reached for her glass and did the same.
"It cost a great deal," Albert went on, drink in hand. "That deal. The deal cost us a great deal, ha hmm." Uncontrollably, he giggled softly. Yvonne just stared. "Iím sorry. The deal . . yes. We paid it off, eventually, and the Spokesman was happy with our service."
"Who is the Spokesman?" She was getting angry again, though she remained somewhat fearful. Yvonne had never seen her uncle like this before. She wondered if he was going senile. If he was, maybe what he was saying to her about Switzerland was wrong.
Albert sniffed. "The Avatar family owns a share in the company G. Limited. We make collectibles. We make fine mannequins. It doesnít sound like a very prestigious business, but it is. It truly is. G. Limited incorporates all the elements our forefathers found so intriguing in the Spokesmanís offer." He hesitated a moment. "But we never actually controlled G. Limited. The Avatars are, in the end, just hired help. Even the founder of the company, the late Mr. Fip, was really only hired help. We recently had a chance to expand our fortunes, our hold on the company, but we failed. The casino in Las Vegas turned out to be a complete failure."
Yvonne didnít know where the conversation was going. It wasnít making sense at all. She put her glass down. Nothing was making a lot of sense to her. She blinked.
Her uncle was getting fuzzy.
She blinked again, but it didnít help. The room began to slowly spin. Something was in the drink, she thought. Her mind felt clumsy, awkward. She tried to get up and failed.
Albert looked at his niece fondly, crying softly. "The Spokesman came back, you see. He wasnít supposed to, but he did. And, after some discussion, we made another deal, one that would allow us to continue on as before. More or less."
The old man got up, not feeling at all any of the effects of the drug now paralyzing his niece, and went to the door to the inner hall. He opened it, and a pair of waiting G. Limited employees came in. He motioned silently to Yvonne. When one of them asked a question, Albert replied softly, "A mannequin, or so I was instructed."
A few minutes later they were gone. For the fourth time that day the door to his right closed with utter finality. Albert returned to his desk, put his head down, and resumed massaging his weary eyes. He guessed he had at least an hour before his next meeting.
* * * *
The trip to the factory was a short one. The girlís heart was pounding hard enough for the retainer carrying her to hear it. The sound was low but thick, like a drum covered by a thick blanket. He paused for a moment, readjusted her weight in his arms, then resumed his pace. The other retainer, a smaller man in front, began working with the harness assembly, a tool consisting of a thin metal column from which four curved arms extended. A number of leather straps were linked through holes in the metal. The employee began undoing them one by one. At his feet, a line track was set into the floor.
Behind him, his partner carried the girl to a low couch. He laid her out comfortably, then set about briskly and professionally removing her clothes. He used a pair of scissors. It was easier than trying to bother with all those buttons and zippers. He had her down to her underwear in a matter of minutes. They were black and lacy.
The man grunted, surprised.
"Did you say somethiní, Les?" the other said. He had the harness completely open by then and was waiting.
"No, not really. I was just shocked seeiní what Ms. Avatar was weariní, thatís all." He snipped through them and lifted the bra and panties away. He hummed casually under his breath. The girl was frightened to death, but his own pulse was normal. His days when he got excited just by seeing and handling a naked woman were long gone. He and Ray were reaching retirement age. They had worked for G. Limited a long time. He put the scissors down, scooped his hands underneath the girlís still form, and lifted.
Ray, the other man, looked over at the couch. "So? Theyíre black." As Les approached, he took hold of the girlís feet, and together they began strapping her into the harness. The metal arms were adjusted, and the girlís wrists and ankles were firmly clamped down. Another set of straps went around her waist and forehead.
"Whatíd you think sheíd be wearing?"
"I donít know. I just wasnít expectiní black undies, thatís all." He bent down and adjusted a plate underneath the subjectís feet. "Sheís an Avatar."
Ray stood back and nodded, satisfied with their work. He made sure Les was clear of the machinery, then reached over and flipped a small lever on the junction box beside him. There was an electrical rumble, and with a sudden jolt the harness carrying Yvonne Avatar began moving out onto the factory floor.
"Sheís a girl. Donít matter if sheís an Avatar or not."
Les shrugged. "Still seems funny, they runniní things and all, all this time."
They watched her roll in.
"Just be glad you ainít one of Ďem, thatís all I can say," Ray said sagely. "At least not today." He checked his watch. "Come on, we got another one waiting."
"Okay. Beer after work?"
* * * *
Yvonne couldnít fight. She couldnít budge an inch. Helplessly, she rolled along the track as it curved through a thick metal door and into the main structure.
Stacked to either side of her were row after row of glass cylinders, some broken, all gathering dust. For some reason their very emptiness disturbed her. Ahead, a large machine awaited, the lights on its sides blinking in sequence. Overhead, thick metal girders helped to hold the contraption in place.
It was like rolling into the mouth of a tunnel. The only thing missing was the light of the on-coming train. Yvonne couldnít even blink.
All she could do was watch.
ĎHelp me!í she screamed mentally. ĎWhy is this happening to me?í
The harness assembly passed a first metal arch. Suddenly Yvonne was inside, and a cold, wet sensation startled her. A spray device had activated and begun misting, starting at her feet. It would have made her yell in fright had she still a voice to do so. The spray worked its way up her body, inundating her with cold liquid. As she continued to move forward, a second metal arm reached down from the ceiling, and another spray device deployed. Its head approached closer than the other one had, the tip of the sprayer hovering less than an inch away from her skin, and where it sprinkled, a thick white foam spread. Between the two robotic limbs, Yvonne was soon covered head to toe in milky- white suds. Her lathered skin began to tingle, not completely unpleasantly.
The foam covered her eyes but didnít burn them in the slightest. The tingling sensation steadily increased, but Yvonne could no longer see what was ahead of her.
A third repetition of spraying finally shook her. A metal arm glided down the young girlís body, and a warm jet of fluid followed in its wake. The foam began to dissolve. Although she couldnít quite see it, her head immobilized both by the strap around her forehead as well as by the powerful drug still in her system, with the bubbles went all of Yvonneís hair. She came through the second metal arch as smooth as the day she had been born, bare from scalp to sole.
A series of heaters began working, the blowing air quickly drying her off just as a fourth metal arm reached down. It began spraying a strange, sparkling reddish mist. A shudder passed through Yvonne the moment it touched her, sending a chemical pulse through her nerves seemingly right into the pleasure center of her brain.
Her climax was immediate, earth-shattering in its power and rapidity.
ĎOhmigod!í she thought. ĎWha . . whatís happening!?í A second wave of ecstasy crashed through her. The sprayer automatically made sure that every inch of the subjectís flesh was dampened. Again, a series of heaters activated, the warm air only stretching out the impression of pleasure. She never noticed how startlingly clear her skin had become, as if the orgasmic mist had erased every birthmark, freckle, or other imperfection she might once have had. Her body practically glowed in its utter, extremely artificial flawlessness.
ĎWha . . whatís next?í she managed to question. It was getting hard to think.
Ahead, a thin veil of almost-transparent plastic lowered in front of the track, held in place by amazingly flexible metal limbs. As the track dragged her forward, the veil was lifted and folded around the harness column, wrapping Yvonne in a warm embrace.
Shears effortlessly sliced away extraneous material. Secondary arms stretched out to gently heat and mold the polymer in place. Inside a matter of seconds the young girl was coated in a thin, almost skin-tight layer of plastic. The properties of this alien material began to operate almost at once. The pleasant afterglow of her orgasm seemed to increase, building in intensity again, the sensation heightened by the odd yet delightful feeling of being so very tight, her body so sleek and rubbery smooth.
When Yvonne saw the next metal arm approach, she knew what was going to happen. She practically welcomed it. The reddish mist sent surge after surge of delight through her overstimulated body, and slowly, beautifully, her mind languorously dissolved, the throes of continual ecstasy melting away all her worries and cares.
Meanwhile, the thin plastic coating enclosing her increasingly oblivious body began its own liquefaction, fusing slowly into her pores and bonding with their very molecular structure. Plastic became flesh, and flesh became plastic.
Secondary veils were lowered as the Yvonne-figure continued her passage through the machine, each subsequent coating accompanied by a shower of unearthly red mist. Ten minutes later, and some twenty chemical treatments, a lovely, gleaming new mannequin emerged from the machineís far end, the body still glistening wetly.
A pair of cosmetic technicians, their orange protective clothing preventing any accidental plastification, gently unhooked the Yvonne-figure from her harness and moved her to the same drying chamber where Cousins Angelique and Alfredo were waiting. Had she still the capacity, the mannequin might have recognized and greeted her Aunt Flora in the stand next to her, or perhaps welcomed her younger sister across the hall or other cousins as the day passed slowly into night. But she didnít, nor did she care that she couldnít.
Eternal afterglow is a wonderful thing.
The technicians returned the next day to install flesh-colored plugs in various nether channels and employ quick-drying acrylic paints to carefully touch up blank eyes and still lips. The mannequin they fondly called Yvonne ended up in a department store in Des Moines. The store manager there agreed with Albert Avatar, who managed to retain his position at G. Limited, that the new line had turned out very well. Albert paused during the conversation but eventually agreed.
They speculated about which of several stores would eventually display them.
And back at the factory the technicians continued to work, and the drying
room filled to capacity . . . blank staring eyes gazing blindly at one
another, not one wondering in the least why they were there, and none appreciating
the complexities of a business arrangement that allowed them to remain
in a business they loved.
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