The vans had driven five hours from the meeting site to the Topiary Genetics facility without incident. The group exited the vehicles and was quickly brought through the painted steel door.
Hailey turned the men over to Dr. Erin McCullough, she then staggered to staff quarters for some much needed rest.
Erin assigned each of the men to what looked like standard double occupancy hospital rooms. Staff members handed them each a set of pajamas close to their size and a sedative as they moved toward their rooms.
Dr. McCullough said "It's been a long day for all of you, even with the enforced sleep during the drive. Try to get some more rest in what remains of the night. Tomorrow will be another long day. We will wake you in just a few hours for processing and orientation.
At 8:30 Martin awoke to Hailey's voice over the PA inviting everyone to an orientation breakfast meeting in the cafeteria at the end of the hall.
The men assembled in the cafeteria after going through the breakfast line. Martin was setting at a round table with several of the guys he had become friendly with the day before. Everyone quieted down as Hailey entered the room from the opposite side from which they had come.
"Good morning again everyone. While at this facility you will all be confined to the patient area. That includes this cafeteria, the hospital rooms, the therapy room, or the lounge at the opposite end of the hall. At no time are any of you to pass through any of the orange and black striped doors. Each of you will find several comfortable track suits for daily wear as well as other appropriate clothing in your size when you get back to your rooms.
"All of the staff which you will meet are part of the program, but you are asked to keep your conversations to the task at hand. To keep you busy now and test your memory later you will each be given a journal and a list of things to write about. At other times you will be interviewed on camera or otherwise recorded. We want to have several methods of checking what knowledge you may have lost or retained. My own experience is that more recent memories were the most easily lost and everything through my childhood seemed to still be there when I thought about it. Unless something big happened in the last few days all of your most treasured memories should still be available to you," Hailey reassured them.
Martin and his fellows received their first shots shortly after the meeting. Martin and his roommate were lounging in their beds watching a detective show rerun when the nurse arrived. The two shots in his upper thighs were painful but Martin had resigned himself to a bit of discomfort for the chance of a new life. Nothing happened at first but later his body seemed to itch all over. It was an itch that seemed to be about an inch beneath the surface of his skin that he could not scratch. Martin could track the progress of whatever they had given him by tracking the itching sensation. It had started with his upper legs then radiated down toward his feet and up into his torso then down his arms then upward into his head.
After a couple of hours the feeling went away and he headed to the lounge to try and relax. As he entered Frank waved him over to the pool table.
"Those shots are a hell of a thing." Frank said."I already wish this part is over. I felt like my bones were on fire but I feel better now."
"Worth it all in the end I hope." Martin replied. "You know, when I was a kid I used to try to make deals with God late at night. Just change me into a real girl and I will be the best person ever. Stuff like that. Now that my prayer is about to be answered it feels wrong to complain about the discomfort. I probably will though."
"Yeah, next shots at bed time. We get a sedative with them to keep us out for the worst of it. I asked the nurse about it."
"So what's your story, Frank?"
"Same as the rest of us I suppose," Frank replied, "I was in equipment sales. I traveled a lot for work. I read lots of stories on the sites that they were apparently monitoring. I even set up a couple of female profiles online but never did much with them. One evening I got a knock on my door. It was Hailey. She showed me the file she had on me and made me the offer. I accepted. She collected my DNA with that cheek swab thing and told me where to go for my med check and psych evaluation and here I am."
A large African-American man who had been sitting on the sofa chimed in, "Except for the job that could be me you just described. I'm Joe. I was an electrician. Kind of frightening what people can find out about us if they have a mind to."
"Yeah," Martin said. "Something to keep in mind the next time around."
"So, you guys want to play pool?" Frank said.
Two weeks later Martin didn't go to the lounge anymore. No one else did either. The itching was nearly constant, his muscles felt like they were on fire and his joints hurt to put any weight on them. It surprised him when two nurses showed up at his bedside with a wheelchair at the time he normally received his shots.
"No shots today?" Martin asked hopefully.
"Not until later. Today we have to take you upstairs," his normal nurse said.
"Through the doors we aren't supposed to go through? Aren't they afraid I will see something?" Martin said in a snarky voice. He hated behaving that way normally. Everything annoyed him lately and he couldn't help hemself.
"Not anymore Martin, you are at the point that you are unlikely to remember anything but not so far into the treatment that you have to be sedated all of the time. We are taking you to meet the geneticist that has been working on your case."
"Sounds great, but I am hardly dressed for a visit," he joked weakly.
"He won't hold it against you," she chuckled. ""Now let us help you into the chair."
Soon Martin found himself sitting in a rather average looking office cubical which was notable only for being somewhat larger than a standard office cube and for the astonishing amount of superhero comic collectible items scattered about.
"Hi Martin," said a balding younger man. He had the slight paunch of a man who spends most of his life sitting at a desk. "I am Lewis Alvarez. I have done your initial work up. Would you like to see an
approximation of what you will look like?"
"That sounds great Mr. Alvarez."
I have a PhD, so it's Dr. Alvarez, but I prefer Lewis." he said with a grin while typing a password to unlock his screen.
It was a really large monitor, maybe a 27". Martin could clearly see the image of a naked woman with her arms held straight out from her shoulders rotating in the center of the screen. There were boxes with sliders and different numbers arrayed on each side of the image. They were all labeled with headings describing what they referred to.
"This is our best guess of what you would look like without any changes to your DNA. As you can see you would be around five feet tall, slight build, medium brown hair etc." Lewis said pointing to the readouts on the left side of the screen. "Let me zoom in on the face so you can get a closer look."
Martin saw a conventionally pretty girl with medium brown hair, light brown eyes and a small upturned nose. Not bad at all but not exactly a head turner. She looked like an average girl, essentially a female version of him as a teenager.
"Now let me load the changes that we will be making," Lewis said clicking on an icon in the corner.
Martin looked closely at the new image. This girl was the same but somehow better. It seemed like the positions of the eyes and mouth had shifted slightly he couldn't quite say what exactly was different. Maybe larger eyes? A better waist to hip ratio? He would have rated the first face as pretty but this second image was very pretty.
"As you can see," Lewis continued, "things change as we eliminate troublesome genetic markers and replace them with known healthy sequences. We have access to a remarkable genetic database of over a million annotated samples. I have very high confidence in the changes we will be making to your DNA and of course you will pass on the superior genes to any offspring you might have. By the way, your health was probably going to go south within the next couple of years. I took out your predisposition for three types of cancer, and replaced everything related to your heart. The med team said your valves were in bad shape for a man of your age and condition. You should now have a good long life barring any bad luck on your part. "
"This is amazing!" Martin said. He could not take his eyes off of the image of his future self.
"That is not all." Lewis grinned, "What if I told you that you have some cosmetic choices that you can make? Part of what we are trying to do is develop the ability to change ones appearance as well as restore youth and vitality. You are one of the lucky ones that have been selected for this addendum to the study"
"That sounds great. What can I control?"
"Let's start at the top and work our way down. There are some limits to what we can do. For example I can't give you Asian features in your face without affecting the rest of your body somewhat. I cannot give you a different body type. And I cannot give you an unnatural hair color such as bright red. Also I am not allowed to make changes that are far outside of the norm such as straight platinum blond hair on typically African features and skin tone. There is still plenty of room within your genotype to make adjustments."
"How will this work?
In simplified terms, what happens is that if we decide to change your eye color to blue, our program will compare your corrected DNA with all of the blue eyed people in the database and find the nearest match to your revised DNA sequence which has not been flagged for eye problems. I will then copy the eye color sequence from that sample into yours. Then I recheck my work to be sure nothing has been adversely affected. Everyone gets new eyes by the way. I hope you like having better than 20/20 vision."
"Sounds great," Martin said. "So, my understanding is that I can make some tweaks but keep them reasonable given my genetic starting point."
"Exactly. So what do you think about hair color?"
Lewis and Martin worked their way through the list and in the end Martin was pleased that he would be at least a couple inches taller than five feet. He would have chocolate brown hair and hazel or green eyes. Martin had never been fond of the light dusting of freckles on his face so he asked for his skin to be as unmarked as possible. He also requested just slightly larger than normal size breasts for his new body. He wanted them to be noticeable but not unusually large for his new female frame. He had known several women with back problems due to having large boobs and he did not want to deal with that or with them sagging as he aged. Lewis agreed to make those changes and had also said he would try to manage smaller feet and more of a cute button nose.
"Thanks for this Lewis," Martin said as the nurse arrived to wheel him back to his room." I will remember our meeting as the most enjoyable hour I have had in years."
"When you come out on the other side you won't remember this at all Martin. It was great getting to know you though. I am really pleased with my work on you. I think you will be too."
The treatments continued with no break from routine after that. It didn't matter, by the middle of the third week Martin had stopped going to the cafeteria for meals because of the constant nausea. A few days later he was being sustained by an IV drip and was sedated most of the time. By the time all of the patients were sedated it was a relief for everyone who worked on the patient ward. All of the screaming and crying had really put the staff on edge.
"Is that the last of them?" Hailey asked Dr. Daniel Yamata the inventor of the gene rejuvenation process. He had just locked down the last latch on a large stainless steel tank.
"Yes," he said turning the valve which flooded the tank with a special fluid. "Number 60, Martin Green."
"Not for too much longer," Hailey chuckled. "How are you holding up? This is the largest group yet."
"Not badly. I am at the upper limit of what I can personally manage but Blake and Erin are becoming quite capable. We have groomed all of the DNA sequences and I think the recipients will be pleased."
"Will she be hot like me?" Hailey said nodding at the tank which contained Martin.
"Oh, absolutely," Daniel chuckled. "All of these subjects received some form of enhancements. Simon is worried about our continued funding under General Stick-Up-His-Ass so we are doing a full array of both cosmetic and therapeutic enhancements on each subject." Daniel said.
"Do you really think we will be able to offer the process to regular civilians if the grants dry up?"
"I think we are at the point where this is almost as safe as conventional surgery," Daniel said. "The only real drawback is the cost. Simon believes that there is money to be made offering our services discretely to certain high net worth individuals if we have to look elsewhere."
"Do you think we will ever be able to roll this out to the public?"
"That's the dream, Hailey. How cool would it be for people who are ready to retire, the age when most people are slowing down due to age related health problems, could go to a clinic and come out young again in a matter of months. Bad heart, don't wait for a transplant just get rejuvenation treatment. Inoperable cancer just get rejuvenation treatment. Lose a limb, get rejuvenated. And obviously once we get the male switch figured out we will have the perfect solution for folks with gender dysphoria."
"Will you be able to get the costs down? I know right now we are looking at more than a million for each procedure.”
"As we scale up the cost of the equipment and material will go way down. Right now we have to formulate everything in house. If we can get to the point where we are actually mass producing rather than hand crafting our equipment, drugs, retroviruses, and nutrient fluids we will significantly lower costs. The genetics lab is also hopeful that they will someday be able to automate at least the first pass of DNA grooming which would save about twenty hours of work per client. Don't get me wrong, Hailey this will never be a cheep process but in time I hope we can make it comparable to a heart transplant or a cycle or two of cancer therapy."
"I look forward to my next rejuvenation then. Our health plan better cover it, buster!"
"With your stock you should be rich enough to cover it out of pocket by then. Seriously, I think this is doable from a science and engineering standpoint. We just need enough time and money to solve our current challenges. The social challenges of greatly extended lifespans will be something else to solve. That's another reason we prefer to work through the government Our security is top notch. If the wider world thought we were doing anything other than trying to regrow amputated limbs and regrow organs things could get dangerous for even our least knowledgeable employee. Now, if you will excuse me I have to initiate the first set of gene splices."
"No worries." Hailey said. "Simon wanted me to help with the next batch of recruits today. Talk to you later."
Daniel sighed as he watched Hailey walk out of the warehouse-like space. He loved his wife, but he could still appreciate the beauty that he had helped to create. Hailey had a first rate ass.
Daniel was reviewing some data on the current group of test subjects when Simon called. "Hello Simon," he said answering on the first ring. He had set Simon's ringtone to "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" by Modest Mouse because a call from Simon with great news usually meant Daniel and his team would be up all night preparing materials for Simon's next big meeting.
"Daniel. I need to give a status presentation to our friends in government next week. What are the high points I can hit?"
"Everything is going as planned. The enhancement packages seem to have been incorporated successfully. They are recognizable as human forms now rather than giant blobs of cells. I can send you some images. The changes that we made in the protocol seem to be working. These subjects are 2.73% more developed as compared to the same point in the last version. Best of all there is no sign of the toxic rejection syndrome which occasionally bit us on the ass during the first trials. That may be due to the overall better health of this group. It was difficult to stabilize people who were already dying while prepping them for cellular metamorphosis. I am pleased to report that all of these subjects should live and be exceptionally healthy. The next group of men will be ready to go into the tank next week. If everything continues to go well we will be on track to have the natural born females done by the time the men have finished the basic socialization module."
"Great! Put it all together in a power point with appropriately impressive handouts and have it for me to review by Friday."
"Thanks for the long lead time," Daniel said sarcastically. "I cannot wait to turn everything over to the health and fitness group for the summer. Honestly Simon, when I told you we needed to scale up our numbers I was thinking less than 240 at a time."
"Hey buddy, it could be worse. You could have to go and deal with General Richardson. Every time I go he insists on going drinking on our dime, and I have to smile and pay the tab. I never would have thought in college that strip clubs would get old. Anyway Dan we sold the idea as a way to heal large numbers of critically injured soldiers. We kind of need to demonstrate that. We have been at this for fifteen years and are largest group was the ten we did last year."
"Way to take one for the team Simon. I will remember your sacrifice in my spare time. Are you sure that you don't want to trade responsibilities?"
"I bet your wife would love it that," Simon said with a sarcastic laugh.
I know that this is a very slow buildup to the actual change but I think it is more plausible that such a big change would require quite a bit of time.
Thanks for staying with me. I will probably post the third part this week then move to a weekly posting schedule so that I don't have a big gap when I finally catch up to my new writing.
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