There Is Always Space For Another Exhibit

"I am still not sure about this," Endre complained. "I don’t trust these pods?"

Alma Jespersen, the captain of the H.T.M. Florette, chuckled. "Don’t worry. These auto-docs are the quite safe and sophisticated. We don’t have time to fatten up your unhealthy male body in time. That means you got to use the auto-doc. I also need to adjust your body. It needs to be able to blend better in.”

“Is that really necessary?” Endre wanted to know.

“Of course it is. You have to decide young mister Kertesz. Keep your gaunt male body, unattractive and sick as it is, and get off my ship. Or you trust me and my plan. I smuggled dozens of refugees past the Aurelian customs. And to be honest a new body might do you good. Just think about it. A little meat on the bones goes a long way."

Endre nodded. What choice did he have? This was as best as it could get. "What do I have to do?" he asked.

"Besides climbing into the auto-doc? Nothing. Now in you go," she urged.

Reluctant he complied. As the canopy of the pod closed he could see his own reflection. It was familiar, yet still ghastly. It was as if someone had pulled a skin over a human skull. He had to agree. No matter what body he woke up with, it could only be a better one.

*****

"Welcome back Miss Balzary," captain Jespersen greeted the still sleepy Endre.

He rubbed his eyes with surprisingly soft hands. "How did you call me?" he asked and then wondered about his voice. Missing was the wheezing and rasp. Instead, it was soft and melodic. Not to mention higher in pitch than he was used to.

"I called you Miss Balzary. Juliska Balzary to be exact. That will be your new identity. Get used to it," the captain told her rather harshly.

Looking down Juliska, formerly Endre, saw a strange and unnerving view. Soft skin and lush curves. There was no doubt. He was a she now. Never had she imagined to wake up as a woman. Yet the proof was right there under her exploring hands.

"Enough." The clipped command made Juliska look up. "Time to get up! We are getting close to the Aurelian border. We already transitioned into the system and de-accelerating as we speak. In three days we'll be a transition into orbit. There are still preparations to be done."

The captain walked away and Juliska dropped out of the pod rather ungainly. For the first time in a long while, she didn't stumble around because her body was too weak to properly support itself. This time she stumbled as her new body was unfamiliar and her proportions were all wrong. Still, she managed to barely keep up.

"Don't I need clothes?" Juliska inquired.

"Clothes? No. Yes. In a moment. Come," the captain told her while marching on into a big hall in the center of her ship.

Around them stood carefully arranged displays of antique findings of different species. Most of them extinct. She stopped in front of a big mirror. Now Juliska saw for the first time her new body. It was beautiful, but to her shock also not human. In their rush, she hadn't noticed the additional pair of ears or the strange hair. More resembling layered membranes. Still, she was a breathtaking beauty to behold.

"You are a Zeraph. A species everyone thinks is extinct. That is not quite correct and not just because I just changed you into one. Come. Here stand on this podium. You see most Zeraph chose to go into hibernation. All at once. Must be a social thing. Lucky for you, their hibernation state is a very good disguise. Now take this pose."

Juliska took a look at the pad held up for her. It was a rather classic yet provocative stance. She was about to ask why, when she saw the look on the captain's face. It spoke of impatiens. Quickly she did as told.

"Good. No. The hand on your hip a little higher. Look up a little more. That will do," captain Jespersen directed. Then she stepped close and pulled out a small cylindrical gadget. "Don't look at me. Look ahead. In a moment I will spray gas at your face. Inhale it, but don't move. Do not even blink. The gas will trigger the hibernation of your body. Once you are on Aurelian we use an antidote."

Before Juliska could reply she heard the sound of aerosol sprayed and she breathed it in involuntary. As best as she could Juliska tried to stand still. It was hard at first as she didn't dare to even continue to breathe. Then it got easier. The pressure in her chest slowly vanishing. After, what felt like a minute she tried to breathe and blink. Both eluded her. As hard as she tried her body remained unmoving.

Captain Jespersen lifted her hand and gently knocked on Juliska's breast. Strangely it sounded as if she was knocking on stone.

"Perfect. Now for your clothes..."

The last thing Juliska saw was a big tarp pulled over her and then just darkness.

*****

"Over here." Juliska knew that voice. It belonged to captain Alma Jespersen.

"I must admit I am always impressed seeing your collection," an unknown male voice commented. "Though I admit I don't know how you pull it off. A flying museum and of this caliber. It can't be this profitable."

"On the contrary. It is quite profitable. My collection is quite exquisite and my clientele very limited. They pay a fortune. Lucky for you this job of yours gives you ... free admission," the captain replied in a playful voice.

"Most looks to be in order. Now I saw on your manifest something new. A Zeraphian statue. How in the world did you get your hands on another one? Most can't get their hands on one in a lifetime and you find them by the dozens."

"I wish it were like that, but I am just the person delivering it. Someone else holds the secret to the origin of these beauties and someone else will own this one," captain Jespersen lied.

Suddenly the tarp was pulled off and Juliska could finally see again. Close by she saw the captain and a man in a uniform. She guessed an officer of the Aurelian customs.

"Breathtaking!" the man exclaimed. "You know I always wondered why we only find female statues of the Zeraphian people."

"Who knows," the captain commented. "They are extinct so we may never know, but I heard a theory recently. Some speculate that the Zeraphian have no genders. They are all asexual. They just look like what most other species associate with women."

"Yes. Who knows," the customs officer agreed. "Anyway, your papers look to be in order and as much as I would like to admire your collection my duty calls elsewhere. Good day captain Jespersen."

"Good day to you too," came the reply.

A moment later Juliska was being dropped into darkness again as the tarp settled in place once more.

*****

Juliska must have dozed off or something similar as the removal of the tarp and the bright lights utterly surprised her. People she hadn't seen before milled around. It looked like they prepared the other exhibits for something.

Then she felt the soft touch of brushes on her. Someone was taking care of her too. A young woman meticulously cleaned every inch of Juliska. The careful touch of her brushes felt oddly pleasing to Juliska. Not in a sexual way, but still very good.

Once done the young woman stepped back and quietly studied Juliska for some time. Other cleaners soon joined her. "You know," the young woman started. "I never knew what made 'art' so special, till I saw my first Zeraphian statue."

"It will be your last," came the hushed reply of another worker. "Provided you keep staring instead of doing your job."

Blushing the young woman did get back to work and so did the other workers around her. For a moment Juliska was disappointed. She had liked the admiration of them. Of course, it was a silly thing to care for. Soon she would get an antidote and then her male body back.

Disinterested she saw how the workers placed tables around followed by plates of food and glasses full of exotic beverages. It was strange. She hadn't eaten in days and by all means, she should be starving. Yet the view of the food meant nothing to her. She didn't even feel hungry.

Slowly Juliska's mind caught up and her theory proved right when the workers vanished. Switched out by serving staff. All too soon captain Jespersen led groups of visitors in. Proudly showing off her collection while making small talk. The highlight of each tour was of course Juliska.

"I have to have her," a fat man in a luxurious suit proclaimed. He looked intensely at captain Jespersen. "I pay you five million credits."

Juliska's mind was spinning. What an amount of money. Back on her home planet as Endre, the most he ever had owned was eleven credits. Now that pompous asshole offered five million. Juliska's mind ran wild with how many people could be helped.

"I am sorry. She is already sold. I am fortunate enough that I was permitted to display her, but as soon as my exhibit has run its course she has to be delivered. And no, you can't overbid her sales price. I can't sell what I do not own."

Juliska would have grinned if she hadn't been immobilized. That pompous ass could not get his grubby fingers on her. No one would. Just a few more hours and then she would get the antidote.

To her shock, he wasn't the only one that offered money for her. Time and time again a visitor would try to haggle for her. While Juliska's disgust for the rich people grew her respect for captain Jaspersen grew equally. Other patrons offered money to buy Juliska but captain Alma Jespersen declined them all.

However, at the end of the day, Juliska was confused as the captain once again covered her with the dreaded tarp. Soon the next day was around and it all repeated. The workers cleaning and preparing and later the dozens of visitors gawking at her naked form.

It was after the seventh day that captain Jespersen turned to Juliska and finally addressed her directly. "You made me some fine money. Thank you for that. But now we have to part ways. I wish you happiness in your new life."

Juliska was elated. Finally, she would get the antidote and be able to walk and breathe again. Next was a male body. Lost in thought she didn't see the tarp in time to feel disappointed. Once again she was plunged into darkness.

*****

A lot of movement and distant voices. Finally, the tarp was pulled and Juliska could see again. She was in another luxurious hall. There was no sight of the captain. Instead, she saw rows of statues. All in the image of Zeraphians. She also saw a man. Dressed in clothes that must have cost a fortune.

"And she did it again," the man wistfully claimed. He stepped close and continued. "My name is Sverre Van Stensen. Welcome to my home Juliska. You turned out better than expected."

He stepped close and let a hand roam over Juliska's hard surface as he circled her. Finally, he stopped while being behind her. His hand never left her, but now moved in a circular motion, just above her buttocks. Juliska had to admit it felt nice. Even pleasurable. Then suddenly a moan escaped her and she took a step forward. She nearly collapsed on the floor as her body was flesh again. It was Sverre who caught her in strong arms.

"Easy. Take it slow. I just paused your hibernation. My hand on your back activated an emergency reflex of your body," he told her.

Juliska whispered thanks but needed a moment to gather her strength for more. "Where am I?" she wanted to know.

"On Aurelian, of course. That is where you wanted to go, right?" Sverre asked amused. "And to be more specific you are now in my collection."

"In your collection?" Juliska angrily pushed herself away from him. "I am not a slave. That was not part of the deal."

The bellowing laugh made Juliska twitch and take a few steps back. "You don't know. I should have guessed. Jespersen likes her little games of deception. Good chance you know nothing important and I would bet you even used to be a man."

Reluctantly Juliska nodded. "Don't know what?" she angrily demanded to know.

"The hibernation. Zeraphian's lives are long. For us, it appears eternally, but that is just our point of view. Their hibernation lasts a long time. A millennium, in fact. But most importantly all I did was pausing the hibernation. In an hour or two it will resume."

"Then change me back," Juliska pleaded. "Make me a human again. Change me back into a man."

"Why would I want to do that? I paid good money for you. Don't worry. I am a good owner and caretaker. Treat me as such and I will pause your hibernation often."

"No!" Juliska shouted and ran away. Pushing through doors and rooms at random. Yet she found no way out. The building a maze to confusing for her to figure out. She collapsed crying. Tears dripped on the floor.

Suddenly she lost control of her body. It stood slowly up and assumed a familiar pose.

"Excellent!" exclaimed a voice behind her. A moment later Sverre Van Stensen walked around her and looked into her motionless eyes.

"The control implants worked. You see those before you sometimes others declined to pose for me. Freezing in an unsightly stature. Now you have the honor to be the first one with implants. They detect when you are close to slipping back into hibernation. Then they override your motor function and pose you in the same pose when you first entered hibernation. Isn't this neat? Consistency. A rare gift. Ahh. I see your skin harden again. Once again welcome to my collection."

Chuckling, he walked away and left Juliska alone. Now she had to face the ugly truth. She was not human anymore. Just a statue. Art. Utterly at mercy of her new owner. All she could hope for was that he might forgive her outburst soon. So she could move again. Hopefully, before she lost her mind. She wanted to cry, but another truth was simply that hibernating Zeraphians do not cry.

*****

Weeks had gone by and Juliska had hardly noticed it. Most of the time she was standing with her pose and thinking. Ever since she woke up as a Zeraphian she hadn't slept a moment. It struck her as very odd that she hadn't felt the slightest bit of mental fatigue. Then again her mind behaved strangely too. Most of all her sense of time was screwed. On an intellectual level, she knew that twice a day a service droid came by and dusted her off.

She also knew that that Sverre had two "dates" each day with one of the other statues. All of them people tricked into their current race by captain Jespersen. With just above a dozen statues and Sverre's habit to cycle through them, Juliska had three times so far the dubious honor to be his date. With about a week in between the dates she knew she shouldn't be surprised or caught off guard when he revived her. Yet time and time again she was just that happened.

It must be the strange habit of her mind wandering off. Utterly lost in small and insignificant details. Right now she was counting her pores. A task that should be impossible for her as a statue. Yet somehow she could feel every part of her skin down to the smallest dent or pore. Her mind could track every inch she had explored and memorized which pore she had counted and which was still to count.

But there was more. Juliska felt herself on the brink of finding even more. If she could feel every part of her skin then maybe she could also feel what was beneath. She somehow knew that all she had to do was concentrate a little more and ...

She stumbled forward and nearly fell to the floor. Only thanks to Sverre she managed to avoid the fall. "Is it already time for a date again?" she wondered aloud.

"Why is every one of you Zeraphians always surprised?" Sverre wondered aloud.

"Just distracted by my own mind," Juliska defended herself.

"That's what the others say too. I sometimes wonder what a statue might think about that is so distracting," Sverre mused.

Juliska blushed slightly. No way she could tell him that he disturbed her while she was counting her own pores. He surely would think that she was mocking him if she told the truth. "Just silly things," she commented with a shrug.

"That too is something the others say," he added. "Sometimes I get the impression that you all would gladly be stuck as statues."

That gave Juliska to think. Did she want to remain a statue? Maybe not forever, but she remembered the feeling to be so close to a discovery about her own body. If she just had a little more time. A day or two. However asking Sverre for more time as a statue was a risk she couldn't take. He might even take offense and Juliska knew his type on her homeworld. Silent and polite, but exploding in anger if slighted.

"Of course not," she replied. "Without you to keep me company, it is way too boring as a statue. Why else would we be lost in silly thoughts."

She was rewarded with a laugh. Once offered she linked arms with Sverre and was escorted to a nearby room. So far her worst expectations had been proven wrong. Despite the allure of her beautiful and sensual body, he had always remained the perfect gentlemen.

She sat down at a richly decorated table. While viewing the offered delicacies she came up with a little plan. He was already spoiling her a lot. Maybe if she demanded a little more he would revive her less often and she had more time as a statue.

Juliska gave a big theatrical pout. "No snow berries of Kentaris five? I liked them so much."

To her surprise, Sverre laughed out loud. "Getting spoiled a little? It must be in the Zeraphian DNA. I swear soon or later every one of your kind becomes a spoiled little diva." Before Juliska could comment he patted her hand and continued. "I promise next time they will be there."

With her little plan foiled she stood before another enigma. Had the others tried the same plan or was it true that they all tend to become spoiled? It joined the other big unanswered question. Where did go all the food she ate? So far she never had to use a restroom. Mentally shrugging she let her attention return to the date. If the others acted as spoiled little divas Juliska saw no reason to not act the same.

*****

Crystals! Not stone. The discovery elated Juliska. Sverre's collection had been growing and it, in turn, stretched the cycle. Finally, Juliska had enough time to concentrate enough to explore below her skin. It was amazing to her. She didn't know how she came to the conclusion, but she was sure she had a fine crystalline structure instead of flesh. Shifting between hibernation and normal meant a shift between the density of her crystalline structure.

The more she learned about her new body the less certain she was that hibernation was the correct term. She didn't sleep and her mind was more active when she was mobile. With her senses heightened she made discoveries she hadn't thought possible.

Suddenly she stumbled forward again. Time for another date with Sverre. It annoyed her to no end, but she hid it well behind a smile. While she made pleasant small talk her mind was busy thinking about what to explore next.

*****

It made surprisingly more sense than she had thought. Her "hair" was an organ in itself. The layered membranes were a multifunctional organ to digest a varied array of radiation. Light. Heat. Even the minuscule background radiation of the planet. It all was consumed by her hair.

As she ended her exploration of her hair voices drew her attention. One was from Sverre and the other was familiar too. A moment later captain Jespersen came into Juliska's view.

"Why did you get me here in person?" the captain demanded to know. "This was the thirty-ninth statue. One more and the contract is fulfilled. Do you want to extend it for more?"

"No. I think forty will be enough. It is the last statue that I wanted to talk to you about. I always knew I wanted someone special," Sverre admitted.

"What do you have in mind. A have quite a few resources to ... Oh, you bastard. We had a deal!" While shouting captain Jespersen drew her blaster and fired at something behind Sverre.

Slowly she withdrew while firing and she vanished out of Juliska's sight. A moment later two menacing androids crossed Juliska's gaze. Stoically advancing toward the captain and ignoring the blaster impacts on their force fields.

"This is a mistake Sverre. I have friends who will hunt you. You won't be safe. You ..." the captain's speech ended in a scream. Then a moment later the two androids dragged captain Alma Jespersen's body past Juliska.

Maybe she should have felt elated that the traitorous captain got her punishment. Yet all Juliska could muster was to feel annoyed of the disturbance.

With silence returning she focused her attention on her ears. Her guess proved right. They may look like ears, yet they revealed themselves as so much more. Small sensor arrays that could detect the finest changes around her. Juliska was sure they were the reason why she could explore her body while frozen in place.

Only when she finished her recent exploration she noticed something strange. It had been a long time since Sverre had revived her the last time. As she couldn't find out why she resumed the exploration of her body.

The next event that drew her attention was the sudden build up of an energy. She couldn't see the source, but soon she deducted the reason. The android who took care of them stopped its usual routine of cleaning them.

Some time later, the room was plunged into darkness. Once again Juliska couldn't explore why and focused on exploring her body again.

*****

Juliska's focus was deeper inside her body than ever before. Slowly the knowledge about her reproductive organ blossomed in her mind. It served as a male and female organ in one. A Zeraphian could will the production of a seed egg. Carrying the materials and information needed for up to twenty-five embryos. A second zeraphian would insert said egg and then give birth to the number of possible babies.

Further study eluded her as she suddenly stumbled forward into the darkness. Not Sverre's strong hands caught her, but smooth female ones.

"Sorry to disturb your self-exploration," whispered a melodic female voice close to her. "My name is Lucinda and I need to speak to you."

"Juliska," she replied. "You moved on your own? Is already a millennium past?"

"Maybe," Lucinda admitted. "Maybe not. I found out how the hibernation works. It was crude how Jespersen dosed us. An aerosol might carry enough to cause our change for a few centuries or a few millenniums. Depending on how much one breathed in. Listen well. I found the organ that produces the chemical starting the shift. It too can reduce it. It is located right beneath..."

Juliska followed intensely the description. So far she had only explored her body. The thought that she might be able to change it hadn't even occurred to her.

All too soon she lost control of her body the and she resumed the old familiar pose. It reminded her of another point she might want to change. The control implants robbing her of the choice to pose herself. But first, she had to find the organ controlling her shift. Quickly she lost herself following the directions.

*****

Something had changed. Not just one of the given constants around her, but several. It drew Juliska attention outside of her own body. It wasn't one of the other Zeraphian's moving. By now all of them had gained the ability to become mobile at will, but trapped in a treasure room without lights or energy there was only so much to do. Sometimes they revived themselves to share discoveries, but this was not the case now.

The others still stood on the positions Juliska had last sensed them. Still, there was a slight current in the air. So minuscule that most instruments wouldn't register it. The cause was an equal faint vibration coming from the far end of the room. But there was more. The fraction of change of the air's temperature as it got barely warmer. The hint of electromagnetic energy in the air. Then there was light so faint that her eyes couldn't detect it.

It continued till a loud sound and heavy vibration rumbled through the room. Soon erratic cones of lights danced over her fellow Zeraphians. Humans and strange aliens that Juliska hadn't seen before entered the treasure room. Talking in a strange and unfamiliar language.

It stuck Juliska as immensely funny. She had been changed to revive an ancient alien race and now she had become ancient herself. Nearly she shifted into her mobile form just to laugh about this absurdity, yet she resisted. Those aliens might be startled and do something stupid.

For now, she chose to wait, be patient and to learn. The same tactic the other had to be choosing too as none of them moved either.

*****

For the first time since her arrival at Sverre's collection Juliska's surrounding proved to be more interesting than the space within herself. There had been a lot of activity after their discovery. Now, Juliska and the others had found a new home in a public museum.

Every day another string of curious people rushed past her. Most paused before her or one of the other statues and marveled at her beauty. She had to admit she liked the attention.

But while they studied her, Juliska studied them. Most of all their language. Besides Standard and some broken Aurelian, she had never learned another language. Now she learned the foreign tongue without context, but still at an amazing pace.

Patiently she enjoyed the admiration. She didn't even mind more years passing by.

It was the fifth year anniversary of their discovery that changed it all. The director was just starting his speech when a voice cut through. "Statues … that is not quite right," remarked Lucinda while stepping down from her platform. Murmurs started all around her and Lucinda quickly continued. "We mean no harm and I apologize for not revealing us sooner. I decided to wait till I learned your language and my companions concurred."

"But you were stone before! How is that possible?" came a shout from the audience.

"A crystalline structure," Lucinda corrected. "We shift between densities based on need. Previously we had been, for a lack of better words, in a hibernating state."

Further questions sprang forth and other Zeraphian took the opportunity to mobilize themselves and join Lucinda in educating the people. Reluctantly Juliska joined them. For hours she had to endure question after question. At least now she could thank people when they commented on how beautiful she was.

Thankfully the patrons of the museum proved to be friendly and hospitality. One offered Juliska clothing and she started to laugh. "I am sorry," she apologized. "It is just that I spend nearly one and a half millennia naked. I think it is a little late to start with modesty."

It was near the end of the day when it all started to die out. Most visitors had left and Juliska noticed a fellow Zeraphian avoiding her companions and the patrons alike. Curious Juliska couldn't help but investigate. The shy Zeraphian noticed Juliska's approach, but couldn't successfully avoid her.

As Juliska drew close she recognized the other Zeraphian. "My. My. If that isn't the famous captain Jespersen. Well, not a captain anymore. Mind if I call you Alma?" Juliska teased her.

"Please don't tell the others," Alma pleaded in a desperation that puzzled Juliska. "I'll do anything if you keep my identity secret."

Juliska was stumped. Why was Alma so scared? She nearly laughed out loud when the answer came to her. Of course, she had betrayed them all. Promising refuge and then selling them off. But that was lifetimes ago. While Juliska had crystal clear memory of her centuries as zeraphian the details of her once human life eluded her. Had it really been that important? Maybe for the wrong reason, Alma Jespersen had revived the Zeraphian race. Still, Juliska couldn't blame her. More so she felt grateful.

Looking at the scared fellow Zeraphian Juliska had to admit she was kind of cute. It gave her an idea. Alma had revived the Zeraphians. Maybe it would be fitting if she was the first to help their race further along.

Stepping close Juliska purred an "Anything?" Not waiting for the reply she continued. "I promise to protect you provided ... Have you find out how Zeraphians procreate?"

A shy nod gave Juliska cause to probe further. "Right now I ordered my body to produce a seedling egg. Once ready you will take it in. Bear my offspring Alma and I swear I'll protect you."

The scared look on her face changed to one of relief. Smiling Juliska stepped close and gave Alma a passionate kiss.

*****

Juliska enjoyed the warm sun slowly climbing over the horizon. To her, it didn't matter that the rays of sunshine first had to pass the thick safety glass of, what most people referred to as, the Zeraphian embassy. She knew that soon the pedestrian way would fill with curious people. By now the novelty of the Zeraphians had waned off, but still, plenty of people enjoyed the sight of Juliska and her people.

Of course, she attracted more looks as others. Not because of herself, but the Zeraphian that nestled in Juliska's embrace. Her hands were frozen protectively over Alma's growing belly. Juliska knew she was close to giving birth to their third child. Just another year and a half. It still amazed her that their child could still grow even with them in their solid state.

It kind of vexed Juliska as it always brought one of the remaining questions to her attention she couldn't solve. Just how did they manage to convert pure energy to matter. The answer still eluded her. Of course, it was the opposite twin of the other enigma. Just where did the matter go when food and drinks are consumed.

Not that it bothered her a lot. Soon or later she would find out. For now, she looked forward to holding her third child in her arms. Followed by the twenty other children that the Zeraphian biology dictated Alma would bear. And maybe that was even just the start for them. Juliska knew that she was with one and a half millennia still young. A few dozen millennia still loomed ahead and patiently she let them come to her.

The end.

Quick author's note:
This story is based on suggestions by my friend Aisling.
I wrote this story as thanks for her dedication and support as a patient test reader of my stories.



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