As I struggled through the fog toward consciousness, the first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smell of perfume, accompanied by the no-less-permeating odor of cleaning fluid. My head was resting against some vinyl upholstery, and I could feel the persistent rumbling of an engine all around me. I wanted to open my eyes, but it seemed to take forever to make my body do anything at all. Instead, I just lay there and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
I felt the world swing around, just for a second, then settle down and resume its steady rumbling. 'Wherever I am, I'm moving,' I thought. 'Feels like a bus. What am I doing on a bus?' I vaguely remembered leaving the gym, and walking toward my car, and then ... nothing.
So here I was, on a bus, lying sideways on a seat, curled into a ball. In addition to not wanting to do what I told it to do, my body felt wrong somehow, as if it didn't quite fit. I felt a cool breeze on my legs and buttocks, with some kind of wispy fabric fluttering against my hip.
So here I was, on a bus, lying sideways on a seat, curled into a ball ... without any pants.
'It's got to be a dream,' I thought hopefully. 'A really bad dream. A really WEIRD bad dream.'
I could feel something warm and soft trapped between my knees and my chest, but I still didn’t feel awake enough to figure out exactly what it was. My mouth felt dry, so I ran my tongue over my lips. They felt puffy and numb at the same time. I did it again, tasting . . . lipstick? My lips seemed to stick out more than they used to. They felt bigger than I remembered.
A lot bigger.
I felt the first stirrings of panic. I tried moving my legs, just a little, and my knees shifted about a quarter-inch away from the rest of me. The warm softness on my chest slid down slightly and came to rest on the seat. The movement felt strangely familiar, as if I had felt it before but in a different context.
I decided to investigate further. Forcing myself to retreat from the fog, I finally convinced my hand to reach for my chest. It wandered across the landscape of my body, drifting across soft fabric and smooth skin in its travels. When the hand reached my chest, it followed a curve until it was wrapped around something I never thought I’d feel on my body in a million years.
I was holding a breast. 'Hmmm,' my brain volunteered. 'It seems slightly bigger than a softball, but not quite large enough to be a volleyball. D-cup maybe? DD?' I was trying to be analytical about something that was clearly impossible. Naturally, I was failing miserably. I didn't know whether to cry, or thank God someone hadn't pasted a pair of beach balls on my chest.
'Someone?' I thought through the panic. 'Somebody did this to me? It can't be. It's not real. It's NOT.'
Fighting down a scream, I reached across with my other hand to cup another breast, just as large as the first. I squeezed gently with both hands, and felt the warm softness contract as the nipples hardened. I looked down to see their silhouettes showing through the top of the lavender dress (dress??) I wore, growing bigger and harder. But then I noticed how low the neckline was, and how big my new acquisitions really were.
I let go of both breasts and pushed myself up to a sitting position, noting as I did the swing of too much hair against my exposed back. My arms felt weak, as if they had no muscle at all. As my chest swayed, I realized I wasn’t wearing a bra, although I did seem to be wearing stockings and a garter belt. The feel of the seat against my much-wider rump made it pretty plain I wasn’t wearing panties either, and I snapped my legs together in a reflex I didn’t quite understand. The feel of thigh against thigh confirmed what I had already suspected.
My penis and testicles were gone.
I sat there, frozen as I tried to take in the whole situation. The bus was dark, but the few overhead lights left on by other passengers made ghostly mirrors of the windows. I took a deep breath, and turned my head to look at what I had become.
Staring back at me was a young black girl with long, straight hair that fell in gentle waves down to the center of her back. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen to my forty-something, but I didn’t see how that could be possible. If I looked hard, I thought I could see something of the man I used to be. But if that was still me, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make my face look as different as the rest of me had become.
My blue eyes were now caramel brown. My cheekbones were more pronounced, and my nose was wider. My mouth was wider as well, with larger lips framing two rows of bright white teeth that gleamed in the darkness when I tried a hesitant smile. Two large hoop earrings dragged down my earlobes, and brushed against my neck with every move of my head.
The face I saw was wearing too much makeup, but through the gunk I could see the fear I felt instantly displayed. There was no doubt in my mind the face reflected in the window was mine, but not the one I was born with.
What the hell had happened to me?
'It's got to be a dream,' I thought again. 'But I've never had a dream like this before.'
I looked down at my hands. My nails were long, and had been painted a lavender color that didn't quite match the dress. But as I looked closer, I realized they hadn't been re-done in a few days, perhaps as long as a week.
I had been this way for a week ... or longer? I didn't even know what day it was.
I tried to remember the person I should have seen reflected in that window, but thinking my own thoughts was like wading through molasses. I was vaguely aware of another presence in my mind that watched my progress with interest. I pushed harder. 'Who was I?' After a while, a range of images and emotions rose to the surface, and I grabbed for them.
His ... my name was Rob, I knew that much. Robert ... Edmonds, that's it. White guy, middle-aged, single. Few real friends, no social life to speak of, although he'd spent a lot of lonely nights wishing he'd made the time for a wife and family. All those years chasing what he thought was happiness, only to find out it was just money ... or things. Awkward with men and women, he realized he was too old to change -- too late to stop being alone. So he spent a lot of time in the gym when he wasn't working, fighting off the years as they chased him towards his fifties. It wasn't that he wanted to be fit. He just wanted to keep himself from heading home to an empty apartment any earlier than he had to.
'I kept myself in shape,' I thought with a grimace, 'but certainly not in the shape I'm in now.'
I looked down at my arms and the upper curves of my breasts. My skin was dark, just on the darker side of coffee with cream, set off by the lavender mini-dress that did little to hide what I had become. My hips looked and felt substantial, like my whole body seemed balanced around them. I saw the tops of my stockings peeking out below the too-short skirt, and my eyes followed my thin, hairless legs clear down to the purple boots on my feet.
'How could someone do something like this?' I wondered. But as the answer seemed to bubble up from the swamp my brain had become, a deep voice intruded and sent the memory back to the depths.
“Don’t worry, girl,” it purred, clearly amused. “All your parts are still there, as far as I can tell.”
I froze, and looked up to find a huge black man looking at me, reflected in the window from the seat in back of mine. He chuckled, then got up and sat beside me. The bus was nearly empty, and everybody else on it seemed intent on sleeping their way to their destination.
Everyone, that is, except for my new friend.
“And all the parts I can see look mighty fine,” he whispered. His hand reached out, and my skin crawled at the thought of him touching me -- anywhere.
“Leave me alone,” I squeaked, moving away from him until my back pressed against the side of the bus.
“Awww,” he said, his smile faltering a bit. “That’s no way to talk to a potential customer, baby.”
“Customer?” I felt something in my mind snap. The vague presence lurking there seized the moment, and suddenly a hot flash burned through my body. The space between my legs itched, and my nipples hardened against the smooth fabric that held them. I felt my new lips widen into a smile I could not control, and found I did not want to control it at all.
My large seatmate had suddenly become much more interesting.
“Yeah, baby,” he whispered. “I know you’re a whore. You don’t need to hide it from me.”
My head was swimming, and my lips were dry again. My tongue darted out, then slowly circled my mouth as I watched him enjoy the sight. I found him fascinating. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and slowly slid across the seat until my leg touched his. He rested his hand on my leg. I put my hand on top of his and urged him to squeeze, then leaned over and licked his ear with the tip of my tongue.
“Mmmmm. Tasty," I said softly, in a husky, seductive voice I didn’t even know I had. “So what zactly you want, sugah? What can Bobbi do for you tonight?”
He reared back a little and looked at me strangely. “That was a quick change-up, girl,” he said. I brought my face close to his and gently nibbled on his lip.
“I juss don’t wake up so good,” I whispered. What the hell had happened to my voice? I sounded like a reject from the road company of Porgy and Bess, the XXX version. “That’s all. Bobbi’s here for you now, if you still interested. I know I am.” My tongue snaked out to slip between his lips and touch his. He answered my question by opening his mouth and grabbing the back of my head with his hand. His tongue probed deeply, and I responded as best I could, feeling my nipples get harder still, and the itch between my legs grew stronger.
When we broke for air, I pulled back a little bit.
“That’s all you get for free, honey,” I whispered softly, putting a hand on his crotch. The feeling of his hardness seemed to set my insides on fire, but I tried not to let it show on my face. After all, he was a customer. 'Never let a customer see how much you want it.' The voice in my head sounded spiteful and cold. 'He try to pay less if he think you want it.'
What the hell had gotten into me?
I ran my fingers across the front of his pants, and watched him shudder with desire.
“How much?” he breathed. I smiled.
“Depend on what you want.” I unzipped his fly and reached inside. His eyes got real wide. I took his penis in my hand ... as much of it that would fit, anyway. “Feels like somethin’s ready to explode. Want me to turn up the heat?” I bent over, pressing my breasts into his thigh, and blew gently on the tip of his organ. I could feel it throb in my hand. I looked up into his face. “Twenty, and I light the fuse for ya. Make ya blow up real good.”
His hand snaked into his pocket and pulled out a handful of bills. He plucked a twenty from the roll and pushed it into my outstretched hand. I felt dizzy for an instant as I slipped the bill into the top of my stocking, as if the heat inside me was boiling my blood. Then, without a second thought, I took his penis in my mouth and ran my tongue around it with a practiced move that made me think I’d done this before, even though I knew I never had. He moaned, and I shot a look up the aisle with my peripheral vision. Everybody was still asleep.
He put one hand on the back of my head, and the other slipped underneath my skirt to squeeze my ass. I arched my back in response, sticking my hips up in the air like a cat that had just been stroked while my head moved up and down. The fire in me seemed to move through my body. The harder I made him, the hotter I got. His hand on the back of my neck pushed me to go deeper, and I responded by sucking and licking his penis each time I went down. I felt a few drops of semen slip down my throat, and suddenly he began to shake and moan, and a flood of cum shot deep into my mouth. Both of his hands held my head firmly in his lap, and I swallowed as quickly as I could. Each swallow pushed me into the fire that had grown to consume me with flames of pleasure that licked my whole body and made me nearly faint.
His passion spent, I felt his organ begin to go limp. I licked it gently as it slipped from my mouth, and felt the fire below my waist start to subside. I had never felt anything like that before, I was sure of it.
It was awesome.
And it scared the hell out of me.
Still the professional, I tucked his penis back into his pants and zipped them up. I gave his lap a little pat and snuck a quick look around. The other passengers were still sleeping. They hadn’t seen a thing.
I looked up at the customer, and found him looking at me with a satisfied smile on his face. It made me feel good to think I'd done that to him -- that I'd made another person happy so easily. The Rob in me felt a strange kinship to this man, as if he was an odd echo of the man I used to be. And in his eyes, I saw something deeper ... and smiled back.
'Don't you go getting' all misty-eyed, girl,' that awful voice hissed at me inside. ''He ain't a person, he a paycheck, and that's all. In my world, a man ain't nothin' but meat with money, so shut up and let me work. This is business!'
I recoiled in horror at her bleak view of humankind, but then I realized I had actually felt something for this man, and that scared me even more. The thought of being with this man as a woman made me shake inside with fear and desire, and confusion battled with the need to control ... and lost.
Bobbi was back in charge.
“Business doing pleasure with ya, hon,” she said, smiling back as I watched, helplessly. As she sat back up, the twenty dollar bill pressed against her inner thigh, its sharp edges cutting into her soft skin. It felt great.
“Likewise,” he said, and slipped an arm around her for a quick hug. She snuggled into him briefly, and then broke free. He gave her a surprised look, and she shrugged.
“It’s just business, sweet stick,” she purred. “You is nice and all, but a girl’s gotta eat. Something besides you, that is.”
I felt her move a little away from the customer. She folded her arms under her breasts. “Give you too much lovin’ for free, wind up never makin’ another cent as long as I live. Then where I be? Buck naked and out in the cold, that’s where.” The line blurred between us, and Bobbi and I were suddenly one. I put my hand on his arm. “Bet you’d like that, wouldn’t ya, sugah? That way you’d get to see everythin’ you missed this trip.” And then I giggled. I GIGGLED!
It wasn’t an act. I WANTED to giggle. It just seemed like the thing to do. I felt warm and happy and content, even though I had just finished taking twenty dollars from a complete stranger for less than five minutes of work, and enjoyed it beyond my now limited capacity to say. Still, Bobbi's pleasure at taking the man's money was dulled for me when I snuck a look at the customer. He seemed uncomfortable, embarrassed, and sad, all at once. It touched me somehow, although I didn't know why.
Suddenly, I saw everything clearly, and my heart went out to him. He wasn’t really the cool customer he had pretended to be. He was just ... lonely. I knew how he felt, or rather, Rob did. Too many days spent without someone to hold, to care for you, or care about. Sometimes, just being wasn't enough. Sometimes, you just need to be with someone.
I sensed a sweetness in him, a shyness that the man I used to be knew all too well. He had reached out to Bobbi ... made himself vulnerable, to have some kind of contact, just to not be alone. And Bobbi had pushed it back to business, and made what had been a connection ... a transaction. She'd hurt him, and she didn't even know how badly. Worse yet, she didn't even care.
I could feel Bobbi grin inside me, anxious to use this information to make a little more cash off of a desperate man. When I realized what she planned to do, it angered me, and I ripped myself free of her control with a blast of anger. How dare she use his loneliness -- and mine -- to make a profit? I cast her aside with my muted rage and reduced her again to the shadow she was when I first woke up. It was her turn to be scared. Suddenly, I was back in control, a pretty, sexy woman sitting next to a sad, sweet man. And as we sat there, even though it scared me, I discovered that I had only one true goal in mind.
I didn't want him to hurt anymore -- to get off of this bus even more alone than he was when he got on. I just wanted to make him feel better. I wanted him to feel wanted, needed ... even loved.
And I would do whatever it took to make him smile again -- for him, and for the man I used to be.
The Bobbi in me seemed shocked, almost cowed by the strength of my emotion. I took from her what I knew I needed, and brought it into myself. Then I took what was left of her and pushed it into a dark corner of my mind. I walled her in with my disgust and anger.
This time, I knew she would stay where I put her. I was stronger than she was. She was a ghost, nothing more. I knew, in time, she would fade and be forgotten.
But for me, she was already a thing of the past. Right now, I had to make things right with him. Gently, and with truth and caring.
I snuggled back into him, pressing my ample breasts against his arm, and looked up into his dark face. He sat stiffly, staring straight ahead. It was as if I had been the first prostitute he'd ever approached. I knew he wasn't sure what to feel -- ashamed of paying for sex, awkward now that the deed was done. Maybe he was even afraid of what I might do next -- afraid I might hurt him somehow, humiliate or embarrass him.
I felt awful for him.
“What your name, honey?” I whispered, my voice as gentle as I could make it.
“M ... M...Marshall,” he stuttered, looking away.
I stole another glance toward the front of the bus to find nothing had changed.
“Marshall,” I said softly, "do you remember what I said about givin' away too much lovin' for free?" He nodded just a little. "Well, I was wrong, and I apologize. I hurt you, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I was juss ... scared. I was feeling somethin' between us, and it scared me. So I tried to make it juss business, but I think we both know it ain't. It's way more than cash and carry, sweetness. I can feel it."
He looked down at me, surprised. I felt myself blushing, and looked away. The words seemed to spill out of me, flowing from the Rob I was through the new Bobbi I'd become. Bringing them both together into something neither male nor mercenary.
Just female, and alone.
"I juss ... I just see somethin' in you, you know?" I looked back at him and let Rob's years of longing pour into his soul through my eyes. "You feel like a nice man, a little lost, and a little lonely ... a little like me. And I don't think either of us wants to be lost ... or alone. Not tonight, and maybe not evah." I looked away, and then looked back. "I wanna see where this takes us."
The bus turned sharply, throwing me against him. His arm reached around me and held me, and his lips met mine as I melted into him. One of his hands cupped a breast, and I took his other hand and slid it under my skirt, between my legs. He gasped when he felt the hot wetness I already knew was there. It was my turn to tremble as his fingers stroked me gently. I shuddered and let loose a little high-pitched moan right into his ear. He moved his fingers away, and let his hand slip from my breast and rest on the curve of my hip. I sighed.
There was a minute of silence, and then Marshall spoke.
"You're right, Bobbi. I'm tired of bein' alone ... and lonely," he said, his voice strained. I could hear years of pain lurking there, held back only by his fear of being taken in and tricked. "And you ... you ... you feel right, too. I can hear it in your voice, see it in your eyes. Like you know how I'm feelin' ... and you feel it too." He swallowed, and I felt him shake. "But I'm afraid. I want it so much to be real ... I ... I don't know ..."
I did know, though. I knew exactly what he needed -- just what I had to do to make him see this was more than either of us thought when he first sat down next to me.
I reached down, pulled the twenty out of the top of my stocking, and slipped it into his fingers, still wet from my juices. "Here, Marshall. Take it back. This ain't 'bout money anymore, if it evah was. I don't want anything from you but you. We juss a boy and a girl on a bus now, 'kay? Maybe we can be more than that, but right now, it's just us."
We were both quiet, as Marshall thought about what I'd said. I let him think. When I thought he'd overcome some of his fear, I took his hand.
“I ain’t got nowhere special to be,” I said softly, “Except here, with you. When we get where we goin', why don’t we grab some dinner?” There was a pause, and then I surprised myself again as Bobbi wailed inside me, totally ignored. “My treat, honey. Not looking for handouts tonight ... just wanting to hold your hand, if you let me."
He just nodded. I smiled, tilted my face up and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Then maybe, if you want, you could ... take me home wit you." His eyes flared, and I smiled up at him in a way that left no doubt I wanted him. "No charge, sweetness. Not between us. Not never again. Just for fun ... and maybe more.”
He looked down at me, and I looked up and waited patiently. Finally, he shook his head and smiled.
"You the stranges’ whore I ever met,” he whispered, and surprised me with a squeeze and a gentle kiss on my forehead. I sighed.
“I'm probably the only whore you evah met, sugah,” I whispered back with a smile. “But that's okay. I don't want you meeting any more. Besides, I ain't a whore no more. I juss quit. Now we juss a boy and girl on a bus, 'member? And if you want me, I'm your girl. For as long as you want me."
"Just like that?" Marshall sounded surprised. I giggled, turn my head and gently kissed his cheek again. It felt hot and stubbly and just right.
"Yeah, juss like that." I snuggled in closer, and felt him hold me tighter. "I know a good man when I see one. Course, if you don't want a girl of your own, you could juss think of me as the biggest puppy you ever seen, with a tongue that juss don’t quit. Don’t you juss wanna take me like a big dog?” I wiggled gently against him and laughed, and he laughed too. As I put my hand on his chest, all thoughts of the man I used to be were pushed aside by the thought of the man I had.
“Okay, Bobbi,” he said as the bus hissed to a halt, the lights from the depot outside. “But don't you go being a bitch now, and if you ain’t housebroken, you’re sleepin’ in the yard.”
I laughed again, and licked his neck.
“Woof,” I said, and he smiled.
As I settled in against him with his arm around me, warm and strangely contented, thoughts about the man I used to be resurfaced. Somehow I knew the few scattered memories I'd managed to retrieve were only the beginning ... and I was pretty sure I was going to be pretty damned mad when it all came back.
Because I knew I didn't do this to myself.
I had my arms full of groceries as I struggled up to the front door. I was still wearing my work clothes, a navy blue suit coat and short skirt that hugged every curve, over a lavender blouse with enough buttons undone to show off a hint of cleavage. The three-inch heels on my conservative pumps made me teeter a bit on the stairs. But I had never had a problem with high heels in the eight months since I had woken up on the bus, and I wasn't about to start now. I had left my job at the car rental place early today for an appointment, and managed to hit the supermarket for supplies on the way home. But I knew without looking at the petite gold watch on my left wrist that Marshall was going to be home for dinner long before it was going to be ready, and if it wasn't already cooking when he walked through the door, neither one of us would be eating anything but each other until pretty late tonight.
Not that I minded, but Marshall couldn't live on sex alone ... no matter how hard he tried.
I smiled to myself, thinking about how hard he tried ... and how hard he was when he tried ... when I heard a familiar voice from behind me.
I turned, keys in my hand and groceries precariously balanced in the crook of my arm, to find my former partner standing on the driveway fifteen feet away. Same old gray suit, same old pinched expression.
"It's Bobbi now, Fred," I said calmly. "Thanks to you, you stupid shit. It's hard to believe this is the same body I grew up in, but I designed the tech, so I guess I have to."
Fred seemed shocked. "You ... you remember?"
"Of course I remember, moron." I bent at the knees and carefully put the groceries down on the front stoop, then turned to face him. "How could I not remember something as vile as what you did to me? Hijacking my body, using my own tech against me, changing me into a young black woman ... then programming me to be a prostitute? I'd have to be stupider than you to forget that. And I am NOT stupid."
He was stunned into near speechlessness. "How --- how could you --?"
"How? Easy. That teaching technology I created? The system you tried to use to program me? It was flawed." I glided over to the edge of the driveway and put my hands on my hips. "I TOLD you when I showed you the alpha version, remember? I said it had problems, and it did. They were manageable when all you wanted to do was teach someone algebra, because the assumption was that the person actually wanted to LEARN algebra. But when you tried to use the same technology to reprogram someone's mind?" I shook my head. "Ain't gonna happen."
I noticed my tone had started to move from conversational to confrontational, and I decided to let it. What the hell, I was pissed. Might as well hit him with it all at once. "You didn't want to hear me because the DoD freaks were drooling over the possibilities of honest-to-God mind control-- which I hated, by the way. Turning POWs and ambassadors into happy spies and assassins? PUH-LEEZ! Trying to push another personality template on already established brain patterns won't last if the person being 'reprogrammed' pushes back. Which I did, dumbass. Hell, I would have expected even you to realize you couldn't turn a middle-aged white guy into a young black whore --not without forty years of experience as a man turning your quaint little attempt at brainwashing into mush."
I started trembling all over. All of the anger I had put aside in the months since my awakening was coming back with a vengeance. Fred began to look a little queasy, and backed up a step. "It took a few weeks, but things started coming back to me a little. And once my old memories started coming to the surface, a lot of the new stuff disappeared. Including most of that horrid 'ghetto speak' you cursed me with. I felt like a walking stereotype! Have you ever even TALKED to a black person? What the hell was THAT all about?"
Fred opened his mouth to speak, and I put up one hand. "Don't! I don't want to hear about your bizaare little sex fantasies, you troll. You made me younger, prettier -- and a prostitute! I'm afraid to think about what happened when Bobbi first 'woke up.' When I think you might have actually fucked me before you let me loose, trapped in a body built for sin with an over-eager libido, I almost want to puke. Did you?" He opened his mouth to speak and I pointed a finger at him again. "Don't! I don't want to know. I REALLY don't."
"Thank God the DNA recompiler worked right ... on a human. You're damned lucky it did, too. Come to think of it, so am I. I could've wound up permanently damaged. Especially with you at the keyboard, you pathetic excuse for a friend." The anger stopped suddenly, replaced by tears I didn't realize were lurking. "Damn you, Fred. How could you DO that to me? I TRUSTED you! You were the only friend I had, and you ... you ..."
There was a long empty pause, as I tried to pull in my sadness and get the tears back under control. I'd spent a lot of nights lying in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering how I could have misjudged him so badly. I watched Fred fidget as he tried to figure out what the heck he was supposed to do. If he had reached out a hand to comfort me, I probably would have broken it off at the wrist and handed it back, but he wisely kept his distance.
Finally, my anger reasserted itself and pushed his betrayal into the past, where it belonged. I gave him a stare that could've melted his aviator-framed glasses (had I been blessed or cursed with heat vision), then broke the silence.
"So you're here now," I snapped. "Another stupid decision on your part. After all, why go to all the trouble of hunting me down, after doing everything you could to lose me?" Fred said nothing. I tried to wait him out, then threw my hands up in disgust. "Fine. You're here. So what the hell do you want, anyway?"
"I want to apologize," he said sincerely, "and bring you back ... to get on with your old life."
"Hah!" I shouted, and stormed back to the stoop. I turned and saw Fred checking out my bottom as I walked away. When he realized I had caught him, he looked both flustered and embarrassed, and I smiled.
"I'm touched, really, Fred," I said tenderly. "That you would come all this way to make amends -- as if a simple 'sorry' could make up for what you did to me. But that's not why you're really here, is it?" I caught his eyes and held them with mine. "What you really want is for me to come back and save the damned company."
I saw his shoulders slump, and I pressed on. "You didn't know about the 'dead man's switch' I set up, did you? There was a reason the company is called Edmonds Biotechnique, Fred. Me being the Edmonds the company was named after, I had a vested interest in making sure my biotechnique didn't get used for reasons I didn't approve of -- like spooky intelligence contracts, or funding your retirement, or TURNING ME INTO A HOOKER!"
"It's all gone." Fred's eyes glazed over and he spoke in a half-whisper, as if still amazed everything he had stolen could have been taken from him so easily. "Every line of code, every piece of equipment. A few weeks after ... you'd gone, the nano-tech manufacturing unit turned itself on and programmed about a billion nano-bots to take itself apart. There's nothing left but a pile of dust. At the same time, every computer wiped its disks, wrote over what was left seven times, and then fried itself as well. And the same thing happened to the off-site back-up facility."
I placed my hand upon my chest and nodded. "Me again, I'm afraid. When I didn't check in over the Internet at the right time, everything disappeared in a puff of programming. Nothing left but memories." I smiled. "I remember convincing you that it was too revolutionary to let any of it out when it could be discovered, even in the vaguest terms needed for the patent office."
Fred nodded glumly.
"So now you've got no product? Nothing to show the shareholders?" Fred nodded again.
"Well, aren’t you in a jam!" I squealed happily, fluttering my hands. "All those millions spent, and nothing left for the annual report but pictures of fried hardware and empty promises. I can't wait to see what the auditors do to you -- not to mention the IRS. The feeding frenzy alone will keep CNBC and the Wall Street Journal happy for months! Oh, and when the DoD doesn't get the mind-control they wanted? I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for ANYTHING."
I parked my bottom on the top step of the stoop, next to the grocery bags, and put my knees together. I put my hand on my chin and pretended to think. Then I threw him another smile. "Say! I bet you've got a Rob Edmonds back home, don't you? Living in my apartment, working out of my office. Why not let HIM put the pieces back together?"
"Because he's not you." Fred looked down at his feet. "Before all the tech went south, I picked him up outside a homeless shelter and offered him a whole new life."
"Yes, yours. He looks like you and acts like you, but he's not you."
"You don't say! Well, as I'm sure you noticed a minute ago while you were staring at my ass, I'm not me anymore either."
"I can change that," Fred said, raising his eyes to mine with a hopeful expression. "You can rebuild the tech, and I can give you back your old life. We can go back to the way things were."
I tried to hold it back as long as I could, but nothing could stop the peals of laughter that rose up from deep inside and echoed across the neighborhood. A window opened in the house next door, and a young black woman stuck her head and shoulders out with a curious look on her face.
"Damn, Bobbi! What's so funny?"
"Hey, Keesha! This guy is. He wants me to trust him again, after he damned near destroyed my life the last time we did business together. He betrayed me, stole everything I had, and threw me out into the street. What do you think I should do?"
She grinned at me and shook her head. "I'd say you're doing just fine, girl. Laughin' is about the best he can expect from you." Keesha looked at Fred. "But you? You'd best get your ass outta here before Marshall gets home, mister. Cause if he find out you hurt his wife, and you're standin' right in front of him, he's gonna twist you into a pretzel before you even realize you're in a fight." She threw me a wink. "Call me before Marshall hurts him, hon! I really want to watch."
I smiled at her. "I'll try!" The window slid down, and I turned back to Fred. He was half-stunned, his mouth open, looking at me like he was seeing an alien.
I nodded and held out my left hand, where a tiny diamond ring sat atop my gold wedding band. "You are speaking to Mrs. Marshall Wheeler, who has about as much interest in going back to being your business partner as she has in joining the Swedish bikini team."
"But Rob ... you weren't ... you'd never ... you said the programming didn't hold!"
"I said most of it didn't. But the best parts stuck, and I'm glad. Maybe it was part of the programming. Or maybe it was always a part of me. But it turns out I like being a woman, and a wife, and a lover. I like having a home and a husband -- making him happy, keeping him fed, and telling him how much I love him, because I DO. Oh, and I love what he does to me when it's just the two of us, in bed, alone. In fact, I like it a hell of a lot more than I ever liked being rich and alone, with friends like you."
I stood up and dusted off the back of my skirt. "I found a good man, we fell in love, and I married him. That's my life now. So you can take your offer and what's left of my company and go back where you came from. Bobbi Wheeler is home, and she's staying there."
I walked back over to him and looked him straight in the eye.
"It’s over for you, Fred. And the company. Sell what you can from the wreckage and run like a thief in the night, because my tech is mine, and you won't ever see it again." I leaned forward. "By the way, I had my own off-site back-up facility, somewhere you'll never look. And as soon as I can figure out how to put it out there without some jerk like you trying to make a buck on it, my technology is going to be helping a lot of people -- instead of giving the intelligence community a hard-on, along with one more cruel toy to play with."
His face went dark, and I saw the anger and hatred flared in his eyes. I took a step back, suddenly frightened, and he raised his fist --
-- only to have another hand swallow it whole from above. Fred found himself yanked skyward, twisted in mid-air, and thrown across the driveway into the side of my car. Marshall stood over him, a solid wall of a man, and I ran over to his side. He wrapped an arm around me.
"You okay, baby?"
"Yes, honey," I replied, giving him a squeeze. I could feel the anger in him, his whole body trembling. "It’s okay, now. He was just leaving."
Fred scrambled to his feet, his face still red with rage. "You don't know!" he shouted. "You have no idea who she really is! She --"
Marshall let go of me, took the front of Fred's suit in both hands, and hoisted my ex-partner into the air over his head.
"Don’t you tell me what I don't know," he said calmly, all the more impressive for holding two hundred pounds of executive up in the air. "You think my wife is gonna keep secrets from me? I know damn well who she used to be, just like I know who she is now. You think it matters? I LOVE her, and I'm damned lucky she loves me."
His eyes narrowed, and his voice went so low he actually growled. "And if you're the guy who took her old life away and tried to make her into a whore, you're about two seconds away from being turned into a pile of dog food." His hands became fists so tight, I could hear his knuckles crack.
Fred turned pale, and a big wet spot showed up on the front of his pants. Marshall lowered him gently to the grass, and he sat there, his legs spread, breathing hard.
My husband wrapped his arm around me again and held me close. It felt wonderful. He looked down at the man in the dripping suit.
"The only reason you ain't in a can with the word 'ALPO' stenciled across your ass," he said, "is that what you did brought me the woman I love, and she's happy bein' mine. So just because of that, you get one chance. Get the hell off of my property and never come near me or my Bobbi again. 'Cause if you do, as God is my witness, you'll be feeding a Doberman the next day."
Fred looked up at us both. I blew him a kiss, and Marshall snarled, and suddenly he was running as fast as he could across the lawn and out into the street. Soon, there was nothing left but the smell. I heard Keesha applauding from her upstairs window, and gave her a wave.
I was home.
Marshall kissed me, hard, and I returned the kiss with interest. When we broke, he looked me in the eye. "Everything okay?"
"Better than okay," I whispered with a smile. "You're here." I kissed him this time, and he picked me up in his arms and kept kissing me while we headed for the stoop. He put me down long enough to grab both bags of groceries with one arm, and kept the other around me as I opened the door.
"You can be pretty scary when you want to be, husband," I said as he walked in ahead of me. "If I didn't know you wouldn't hurt a fly ..."
"Well, I wouldn't," Marshall replied, setting the bags on the kitchen table. "But he ain't no fly. He knows I meant every word I said, and he won't be back. Got no reason, now that he knows where we stand."
"Side by side, baby." I gave him a squeeze from behind. "Always."
My husband scanned the kitchen and turned to me, a small frown on his face. "I see dinner's not started yet."
"No, honey." I pouted, putting my hands behind my back and looking at the floor in mock embarassment. He gave me a long-suffering look and sighed. Then he picked me up with both hands, took me in his arms and kissed me until my toes curled. I squealed, wrapped my legs around him, and let myself feel every inch of him pressing into me. Marshall broke from the kiss and looked into my eyes.
"Lucky for you you're so damned tasty." He brushed my lips with his. "I've been skipping a lot of dinners lately." He turned and started walking to the bedroom with me still wrapped around his middle.
I kissed his throat and bit him, just a little. He made a little noise and held me tighter. I put my lips up to his ear and whispered, "Tell me, husband. Are you still gonna want me this much after the baby comes?"
He took three more steps before he stopped dead, and pulled me far enough off of him to look into my face. "Baby?"
"Oh, did I forget to mention? I went to the doctor today, and ..." The look on his face stopped me cold. It was the biggest smile I'd ever seen, and it lasted until I nodded. Then he kissed me again and nearly squeezed the life out of me with a bear hug, before taking me to bed and making slow gentle love to me all night long.
When I woke up the next morning in his arms, listening to him snore, I thought about when I first woke up on that bus, and how I thought I was trapped in a nightmare.
But who said bad dreams can't have happy endings, once in a while?
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