Maintenance Workout - A Night To Remember


Zane

The train was eerily empty as Zane boarded it. Aside from himself, he could only spy two other passengers. Despite having his pick of seats, Zane sat down heavily on the closest one. Willing his breathing to slow down. He had barely arrived at the station in time and the security screening had nearly delayed him enough to miss the train. If he had, Zane would have waited an hour for the next.

Having calmed down, Zane put aside his garment bag with his office uniform and pulled out his pocket computer. He waved away the many pop-ups that reminded him that this was the Super Bowl Weekend. As if he needed it. If Myrna hadn't called, he'd be at home with a six-pack of his favorite soy beer and catch the games. Instead of clicking on the live stream of the pre-game entertainment, Zane played his last message again. It was audio only, but Myrna's voice was unmistakable.

"Hey, Zane. I am so sorry to call you. Listen, I know it is the weekend, but I need you at the office. Something came up and I need your help. I am aware it is short notice and you probably had other plans. I am asking this as a personal favor. Let me know if I can count on you."

Zane had debated with himself for ten minutes before sending a short text that he would be there. Myrna hadn't said anything about getting paid. Even his normal rate. Let alone weekend bonus or overtime. A personal favor she had called it. But he remembered that his evaluation was coming up. One year working for Castro Analytics. He was convinced he was doing fine, but Zane wouldn't risk even the smallest chance of losing his job. Now that he had a good taste of life outside the welfare slums, he'd be damned if he ever went back.

The train arrived. Grabbing his garment bag, Zane left and looked for a public restroom to change into his work uniform. The pickings were slim. The many office bars and cantina were open, but the cacophony of voices clued him in that the patrons were already getting ready for the first Super Bowl match. He couldn't risk spilled beer. Instead, he steered for the Bexter Commercial Tower.

The side entrance for service personnel was as empty as always, yet they felt a little more lonely than usual. Zane shook his head. It must be his imagination. Using his keycard, he called for the elevator. Tapping nervously his feet as he waited. When the elevator arrived, the soft chime still managed to surprise him.

"Calm down," Zane told himself as he entered. "You ain't in trouble."

After pressing his floor, the elevator doors closed and started to lift Zane upwards. Not for long, as it slowed down at floor five. The doors opened and revealed a familiar security guard.

"Evening James," Zane said first. Hoping his nervousness wasn't so obvious.

"Zane? What are you doing here?" James took his place in the elevator. "Another Candi Run? I haven't heard anything. Not even the faintest rumors."

Zane twitched. By now, he had two Candi Runs behind him. It was those rich assholes' ideas of entertainment. Now and then, the boss of an upper-floor investment firm threw a rager. And to pay his employees back for their commitment, said boss switched into a female android that was programmed to be a walking sexpot of a bimbo. The Candi Run started when one of Castro Analytics went up to retrieve the android. Namely by transferring their soul into said android. For the last two runs, that job had fallen to Zane. It was a struggle to make it back without getting lost in the preprogrammed instincts.

"I don't think it is," Zane admitted. "Myrna called. Some kind of emergency."

"Sucks," James commented dryly. "This weekend especially."

Zane relaxed slightly. "Yeah. I was looking forward to catching the games. You drew the short straw too?"

James gave an amused shake of his head. "Not a fan of football. I volunteered. Gets me brownie points from my co-workers and a small bonus payment from my boss."

The elevator stopped at Zane's floor. "Good for you. See you later James. Say Hi to your husband for me."

"Will do," James promised. Then stopped the doors of the elevator from closing. "Whatever the emergency, let me know if you need help."

Zane gave a last wave before turning to the entrance to Castro Analytics. There was no time to change into his suit anymore. Taking a deep breath, Zane let the door scan his credentials and stepped in. For once, the office space was quiet. The lights dimmed. Zane half expected to hear the constant blabbing of Tim and the grumpy replies of Allan. His two co-workers. But the break room was empty.

"Hello?"

Myrna's reply came from the main android storage area. "In here!"

Walking closer in the dimmed light, Zane was momentarily reminded of a dozen horror movies. The androids, standing still in their alcoves, added to the creepiness factor. He half expected some shenanigans- a jumpscare at least - until he stepped into the room enough to spot Myrna.

She stood with her back to him. One exposed as her vibrant red dress had a deep cutout. It flared out into a floor-length skirt. The dress sported some lace applications, but Zane barely noticed it. This was not the Myrna he knew. The boss who wore business suits and he had grown comfortable with. Her silhouette alone screamed femininity now.

She spotted him in a mirror - one of the full-length ones they required for their work - and turned around. As she did, Zane a good look at her front. Her neckline wasn't as revealing as the cutout of her dress' backside. That didn't subtract from her beauty the slightest bit. Her slightly darker skin - courtesy of her Cuban ancestry - appeared to be glowing under the defused light. Dark brown hair fell in ringlets and curls around her shoulder. One of her eyebrows quirked up and she fixed him with an amused look from her brown eyes.

"How do I look?"

Zane's first conscious reaction was to swallow. The flush that overtook his face was a reaction that his body managed of his own. Lots of words flittered through his mind and competed how to properly answer Mynra. Yet they all fell short. They threatened to burst out of his mouth in a flood, but Zane managed to cut them off. Thankfully, remembering in time, that this was not just any woman before him, but his boss.

"Very elegant," Zane offered before his silence could stretch too far.

Myrna gave him a knowing smile and turned back to the mirror. Grabbing mascara from a splattering of makeup supplies resting on a small cart that normally housed tools for serving androids.

"You must be curious why I called you." Myrna glanced through the mirror at Zane to judge his reaction. Finishing up, she turned back. "I know it is the weekend, but for someone in my position, work never ends. Cultivating and keeping clients is an endeavor that keeps going. To be seen is part of the social game."

Zane's thoughts raced. Was she asking him to be her plus one? At once his heart beat faster. He wasn't dressed for it. Not even the suit in his garment bag was good enough. The rich elite would sniff him out in no time. Unmasking him as an upstart who wasn't even out of the welfare slums for a whole year.

Carefully, Zane presented his reply. "I don't think my companionship would be wise to such a function."

Myrna gave a smirk. "No, a companion is unnecessary. Even my attendance isn't technically required. The point is to be seen. Shake some hands. Make a little small talk. It would be best if I was there, but-" Myrna gave a lazy shrug. "I am not the only one tired of these social functions. Hiring someone to parade around your body has become standard practice."

His confusion grew. Myrna was leading up to something. A conclusion he could already guess. But it couldn't be, right? She wasn't asking him to switch into her body. It didn't make sense. "I am not sure I follow," Zane offered. Playing up his unfamiliarity with this situation.

"Ah." Myrna gave him a knowing smile. "You see, I planned to attend today's activities myself. Else, I would have hired an actor ages ago. But another opportunity opened up. A meeting I have to take. Sadly scheduled at the same time. Ironic isn't it? One commitment that requires my body, but not my mind. And an opportunity that requires my mind, but gives not a damn about which body I show up in."

"You want us to switch bodies," Zane concluded. There. He had said it. What else could Myrna hint at?

"That wouldn't be that bad, would it?" Myrna asked with a smile. Zane couldn't decide if it was a shy one or a mischievous one. "Think about it. Fine dining. Most of it even the authentic stuff. A little bit of dancing. Knowing the host, there will be spectacular entertainment. All for the price of chatting a little bit."

For a moment, Zane was tempted. The food and drinks alone promised to be a delight. Zane had thought he knew how coffee tasted. He couldn't be further mistaken. Tim and Allan had introduced him to the good stuff. Fake too, but it tasted so much better. And once, Myrna had sponsored real coffee. Beans freshly ground up. The experience was something Zane could barely put into words. And that was just coffee. In the last year, Zane experienced many foods and their difference between imitations for the welfare population and those of the middle class. How could he not be tempted by those offerings that the upper crust of the society had access to?

It was an opportunity. But Zane was well aware that it was one to crash and burn too. "I've never been a woman," Zane pointed out. Hoping to dissuade Myrna from her idea.

Myrna gave a sensible chuckle. "We both know that isn't true."

"It is," Zane insisted. "The others don't count. They are androids. Not flesh and blood. Loaded full of programs to enforce certain behaviors. Without it, I'll be-"

"Fine," Myrna interrupted. Then she tapped on her temple with her pointer finger. "I get it. But you will be just alright if you do this for me. Trust me. Humans can be augmented too. I wear an implant that can do a lot of the features that android software can provide. It would help you get used to my body. As well as navigate the social dynamics at the function. And believe me, male and female bodies might be different, but not to a degree that would be insurmountable."

It made some sense. Clearly, Myrna had thought it through. But there was another question. "Why-"

"You?" Mryna gave a knowing smile. "Should I have asked Tim? I mean, the function is to be social, but you know Tim. He is chatty at the best of days and at worst? He'll talk out business partners to sleep. Provided he sticks to the script. As for Allan-"

"He is Allan. I get that." The chief technician in their little subsidiary office was known to be grumpy. Downright abrasive if one didn't know how to handle him. It had taken Zane a while to get used to it.

"So-" The word lingered in the air. Myrna fixed him with her gaze. Her closeness reminded him of her beauty. One she normally didn't display as much. A beauty Zane would have to live up to if he accepted. And the time to decide was now. "And? Will you do it? As a personal favor to me."

Zane's instinct told him it was a bad idea. Many things could go wrong. He would represent a company that had a thousand times more worth than he had in his bank account. If he messed up, it could become costly. Who was at fault then? Surely, Zane would end up as the scapegoat.

"I'll do it."

"Great!" Zane only realized he had spoken out loud - and agreed- as Myrna was already dragging him to a small familiar room. There was the soul-transference bed that could maintain a body while the soul was away. "You'll get comfortable and I'll set up the other side."

A little confused, Zane took a seat and then slowly lay down. As far as he knew, there was only one soul-transference bed in the office. How would Myrna swap their bodies? As his view dimmed around him, Zane knew he would find out.


Myrna

Zane found himself awake in one of the maintenance alcoves for androids. Suddenly standing up made him stumble and nearly fall. The matter wasn't helped by the fact that he was wearing high heels. Right, he was in Myrna's body. That means he was Myrna, right? His mind wasn't quite ready to accept it yet.

In the past year, it had helped Zane immensely to associate transference into android bodies with becoming a new person. Many of those androids had built-in software to change and modify behavior. When Zane's soul entered an android, he literally had a new personality. Zane did things as androids that would be way too embarrassing in his original body. It couldn't be helped. His actions as an android weren't really his own. But transferring back, Zane kept those memories. It was easy to say "I did that" and feel embarrassed or other negative emotions. Instead, Zane reminded himself that it wasn't him that had done those things. The personality of the android has done it. Zane had only lent his soul to enable the android.

But now, in the body of Myrna, things were different. Zane couldn't feel any strong influences on his psyche and personality. He was still Zane. Just the body was different. Could he still attribute all his actions and later the memories, to being Myrna? This little detail was surprisingly terrifying. What if he couldn't? It would mean, that whatever would happen this evening, Zane would be responsible. There was no hawking it off to "pre-programmed behavior". His actions would be his alone. He would have to shoulder any consequences that arose.

"Hmm, I do look good."

The voice was a familiar one. As was the body. Zane's own body had entered the maintenance bay. But it wasn't Zane in there. Myrna was at the helm. There was no mistaking it. The mannerisms were off. The Zane portrait by Myrna was more confident and outgoing. He could tell even by this little interaction.

Myrna walked around her original body and took it in from every perspective. If anyone else would have done it, Zane might feel obligated to protest on Myrna's behalf. But who else would be more familiar with it than her?

"Stop being so stiff," Myrna reprehended Zane. "You'll give me a kink in the neck."

"Sorry." Zane blushed. Felt it really as blood rushed to his face. Did he always blush to this extent or was that a trait of Myrna's body. He had never seen her blush before. Maybe he was just imagining it. "It's just strange, you know, to see my own body."

"I know how that feels." Myrna's remark didn't sound like fake empathy. "I've done this a few dozen times now and I still can't get used to it. But there is something that helps."

"I could use every trick you can offer."

"It's easy. I'll just have to send you on your way. Out of sight, out of mind. Then you don't have a constant reminder. But before I can do that, there are a few things you have to know."

Zane was baffled. Nearly missed the second half of Myrna talking. His body. It looked and acted so charismatic that Zane was distracted for a split second. Was that all Myrna at the helm or was part of it just untapped potential Zane had never bothered to unlock.

"I am all ears," Zane said. Maybe a bit too hasty. "I mean, don't get me wrong, but I want to get over with it."

Myrna glanced at a nearby digital clock on the wall. "Yes, time is running short. We both have to get ready. Alright. Think about options or assistance. The HUD of my implant should appear. Most options should be grayed out. That is on purpose. But one icon should be for the Better Meet And Greet app."

Zane hardly had to concentrate on it and a row of icons appeared in the periphery of his view. As Myrna had said, most appeared to be deactivated. It wasn't hard to find the indicated app. Activating it, more details appeared in Zane's view. They were all centered on Zane's original body.

The app knew that this body rightfully belonged to him, but also which soul currently inhabitants it. Offering details to both. Attached to his body was his own personal file. Strangely devoid of details. Of course, he couldn't help but glance at the details offered about Myrna's soul. What he found made him nearly choke.

# What? Do you really expect that I left confidential files lazing around for you? #

"Found my little memo, didn't you?" The smirk Myrna produced looked strange on his face, yet also oddly right. "Now, pay attention. Once you arrive at the party, this app will be your best friend. It will identify conversational partners and suggest topics for small talk. How are your children? Has your wife returned from vacation? Stuff like that. It will also provide answers to questions you might get about me. Answer in character along the prompts the app provides. Don't improvise too much. Whenever new details are picked up, the app will save them for next time. So I, or some actor I hire, can continue without trouble. Got it?"

Zane took a deep breath. Just what exactly had he agreed to? The summarization was short and blunt. "Get there. Circle the venue. Make as much small talk as possible according to a cheat sheet only I can see. Bring your body home safely."

"And have fun," Myrna added. "Don't forget the fun. Enjoy the delicacies they serve. Be amazed by the entertainment. This is not work. You are doing me a favor. Might as well enjoy it, right? Just don't go overboard with the fun. If you get my body pregnant I swear I will make you carry the child to term."

Zane was speechless. Before he could recover and protest, Myrna continued. "Listen. Don't be nervous. Once you get used to playing me, it will be a breeze. Stick around a bit. Say three hours at minimum. More if you like. Just be back before midnight."

Here would be an appropriate moment to insert a joke about how Zane was to act as Myrna, not Cinderella, but Zane wouldn't recover his cool to joke for the next five minutes.

A wooden "got it" came from him instead.

"Relax," Myrna reminded him again. "Remember. I don't want any kinks when I switch back." She then handed Zane a clutch and escorted him to the elevator. Not his usual one. "Myrna" wouldn't be leaving through any service entrance. The regular elevators definitely boasted better decoration.

The doors closed.

Zane was alone.

In Myrna's body.

It meant that he was now supposed to be acting like Myrna. To become her. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled.

As she opened her eyes, she was Myrna. Not the original. Neither any of the previous imitations. She was the Myrna with Zane's soul. She had been a woman many times before. Granted, as an android, but surely some of that experience will help her out. The original had been right. Once they weren't sharing a room, it was easier to assume the new identity. At least, that was the hope.

Having barely gathered herself, a new challenge arrived. The elevator opened and a familiar security guard stepped in. But how familiar was Myrna with him?

"Good evening, Miss Castro," James greeted before Myrna could make up her mind.

"Evening, James," Myrna replied automatically and gave a somber nod.

She felt a casual glance roam over her body. Dressed up like this, it was no wonder. "May I say, you look beautiful Miss Castro. Poor Zane. Got him working overtime while going out for a party?"

Was it an honest concern for Zane or was this a test for Myrna? Maybe he was onto her. How would the original Myrna answer? Thinking back, the appropriate response was readily on her lips. "I am afraid even a party is work for me, James."

"Too true." They arrived at the ground floor. James indicated for Myrna to leave before him. "After you."

With a nod, Myrna headed out and realized this was the perfect time to test out the app. Surely, Myrna would have left notes about James. The app dutifully provided a few details and it was surprisingly easy to string together a few sentences.

"Thank you for the bran muffins, James. They were delicious. Tell your husband I said so. To be honest, I can't wait for my next birthday to taste them again."

There was a barely previeveable stumble by James and then the large guard laughed. "You had me fooled there for a while, Zane. Nicely done. Wait, I mean, Myrna. Of course."

Myrna took being found out in stride. "Say, what gave me away?"

James gave a few last chuckles and then took pity. "Bran muffins. Myrna hates them. She included a reference to them in her little spy app to clue me in. She did that for most of us guards. Now, don't look so disappointed. The security scanner over there would have clued me in too."

James was right. Everything could be faked in today's day and age. From looks to biometrics. Even DNA tests didn't stand up well if one could change bodies. Or even clone them. But souls were unique by default. Hence scanning them is the ultimate security measure. Thankfully, Zane assuming Myrna's identity was an open secret.

"Well, hopefully, no one will call me out on it again," Myrna admitted with a sigh. "I wasn't really prepared for this gig."

James gave a lazy shrug. "Well, it is the right day for Myrna to pull a stunt like that. I am just surprised she roped you into it."

"She does this often?" Myrna pondered just what the original was up to. Not to mention that if this was a regular thing, then maybe Zane's soul would end up in this body again. Maybe even often.

"You have to discuss that with her. But until then-" James opened up the front door and held it open for Myrna. "Your chariot awaits."

Indeed, it did. It was the same self-driving car that had picked up Myrna and Zane a year ago. This reminded Myrna just how long ago Zane had escaped the slums. Yet, it also felt so very recently.

With a murmured thanks, Myrna walked over to the car and stepped in. The doors closed by itself and the car sped up as soon as Myrna sat down. The ride didn't take long and Myrna saw a small line of cars before her that stopped at a boardwalk with a red carpet. At once, her heart started to race. No one had mentioned reporters and photographers.

All too soon, Myrna had to exit and walk the carpet. Her instinct was to run, but she took measured steps. She stopped now and then. Posing and smiling for the cameras. Hoping that it looked natural. All the while cursing out the original Myrna under her breath. She felt exposed out here. Clad in a revealing dress with fabric so thin, she hoped it wouldn't tear. Aside from panties, heels, and a clutch, Myrna had only herself and her wit. Both were tested right now.

It should have been a relief heading off the red carpet and into the venue, but Myrna was confronted with her first social obstacle. The hosts of this event. Thankfully the app was on the ball and ready to go. Providing her with information. Maybe too much as some details nearly made her stumble.

"Myrna! Glad you could make it." She was drawn into a sugary hug by one Barbara Kinsdale. In flesh and soul. The same couldn't be said for her husband.

"Of course. I wouldn't miss it for the world." Myrna hoped her voice was just as sugary and camouflaged how she really felt. After all, the original Myrna did miss this event. On purpose. But this lie was expected of her. At least to all the glamor shows Zane had seen in the welfare slums. Not that he liked those shows, but they now helped Myrna out. She turned to the second host and hoped her smile covered up how she really felt. "Arnold. Good to see you."

"Is it?" The man gave a wolfish grin. "We snatched up that consulting gig with Langdon & Stonecast that Castro Analytics wanted so much. Surely you are cross with me."

Myrna had to hand it to him. Whoever was steering Arnold's body perfectly acted like a smug bastard from high society. The app clued Myrna in that not everything was as it seemed. The third notice the app provided said as much: "If Arnold is smug about Langdon & Stonecast, act like a gracious loser. The longer he is distracted by this faint, the more clients we can pouch behind his back." Now it was up to her to make it work.

"It smarts," Myrna said while giving a small wince. Then plastered an obviously fake smile on her face. "You outplayed us, Arnold. Congratulations. Now you better not trip up, because we will be waiting."

Arnold gave a barely perceivable nod and then took a sip of his champagne glass. "Until our next sparring match, Myrna. Enjoy the party."

"Thank you." Clearly dismissed, Myrna made her way further into the venue. Wondering just how much this little exchange mattered in the overall picture. Two actors reading lines the real players wrote. Clearly, Castro Analytics was at odds with whatever company Arnold and Barbara Kinsdale owned. Not being above underhanded tactics despite playing nice in public. But was Myrna's little exchange here pure banal play or another move in a complicated game of corporate chess? The original Myrna hadn't emphasized any reason to be here aside from being seen.

It was just a few steps to the main hall and Myrna had trouble taking it all in. It was a nauseating display of wealth and impressions. To her left was a big buffet with plenty of exquisite morsels for her to try. The plates were scattered between a small menagerie of ice-carved animals. The floor before her led to the dance floor. Currently not occupied by dancers. but spectators, as over their head acrobats performed incredible feeds along drapes of fabric. How they didn't fall to their death was beyond Myrna.

There were many adjacent rooms and areas filled with small groups of people amidst excited small talk. The thought that she had to join in made Myrna shudder. Among the masses were waiters and waitresses who balanced trays of drinks or appetizers. Overlooking the masses were balconies that belonged to an upper floor. On one such balcony, Myrna spotted a person who took notice of her. An older gentleman. A natural tan. Black hair that had its fair share of gray spread through. And an intense stare. Trouble? Myrna wasn't sure. The app wasn't helpful either as the man was too far away to be identified. Taking the better part of valor, Myrna took an offered champagne glass and started to mingle in the masses.

Her actual job, striking conversations with random people, was surprisingly easy. Now and then a person was alone and appeared to be available. All Myrna had to do was slowly make her way over and let the app whisper secrets to her. By the time she arrived, Myrna had their names ready. Followed by pleasantries and then some casual inquiries over family, company, or acquaintances. Of course, Myrna had her fair share of questions. The app easily provided the answers.

Before Myrna noticed, an hour had passed. She had steered through the crowd as if on cruise control. The app did the heavy lifting. Myrna was just the puppet to enact the prompts. It was exhilarating how easy it was. But eerie too. There was no real connection anywhere. Only shallow talk and pleasantries. It was no wonder the original Myrna avoided such a function. Or any other of the many people Myrna met. She guessed about two-thirds were controlled by professional actors. Those who actually showed up were most often at the bottom of the food chain from high society.

Lost in a daze of small talk and canapés, Myrna nearly stumbled as her app suddenly flashed red text in her vision. A man came closer by the name of Alfred Bramsteen. Myrna didn't need the app to know that Alfred was a serious playboy. Or, at least, thought of himself as such. The pompous walk over to Myrna said as much. It was also evident that she wouldn't have time to evade him as she clearly was in his crosshairs.

Before he even opened his mouth, Myrna fixated on one line in the app: "No matter how annoying, resist kicking him in the nuts." The line was written in red and underlined twice. Myrna braced herself.

"Myrna. You look ravishing!" He took her hand before Myrna could step back and placed a real kiss on it. Not one mimicked barely above, as was customary. "That dress looks brilliant on you, but it pales in comparison to your beauty."

Myrna's instinct, to find an excuse and flee, fell away. Now that he was close, Alfred wasn't so bad. Kind handsome. She had to admit there was some natural charm to him. A blush came over her and she felt slightly hot. Myrna needed a moment to categorize the feeling. She was aroused. Of course, Myrna knew how it felt to be aroused. As Zane, a man. And she had inhabited women before, but those had been androids. Build for pleasure. Their arousal was strong, immediate, and overwhelming. This was different. More subtle. It gave her butterflies in the stomach. She decided she kind of liked it. And him.

An alarm went off in her head. Literally. Some app opened up a pop-up. Overlaying a good chunk of her view. "Warning! Potent artificial pheromones detected. Releasing countermeasures." A shudder went through Myrna and from one moment to the next, the haze of arousal lifted and she became clear headed again. It was followed by rage. That asshole had doused her. Artificial pheromones? Myrna hadn't even known that was a thing! Now, she felt violated. Her first instinct was to get distance. Force it, perhaps. Maybe with a kick between-

No, she remembered the memo in time. Myrna closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, she was calm but still angry. The slap that followed could probably be heard for a dozen meters or more. Even over the ever-present murmuring of the crowd.

"What was that for?" The shock was clearly evident on Alfred's face.

"Don't act innocent with me," Myrna pressed out through her teeth. The app's warning came to her mind and Myrna could add up the obvious. "Up to your old tricks? Pheromones? Really?"

Alfred was quick to regain his balance. Notably a step away from Myrna. "Oh, mon chéri. You used to like my company. Pheromones included. But no, you had to get some silly implant and ruin all the fun."

"I don't know. Slapping you was pretty fun." Myrna wasn't even sure if that was her acting the role or not. But taking pompous asses like him down a notch was pretty satisfying. Hopefully, it wouldn't bite her in the ass later.

"You always had a violent side to you," Alfred remarked and tried a winning smile. It fell flat. Now that Myrna knew what was up, she was on her guard. Still, the next sentence caught her off balance. "At least tonight we spar in person. The last actor you hired to impersonate me was a little too enthusiastic. Kicked me in the-"

Alfred thought she was the original Myrna. Well, it was flattering, she guessed. Didn't he have an app to clue him in? Or maybe she was distracting enough that Afred hadn't bothered to look.

"Nuts?" Myrna smugly volunteered. "Not in my playbook tonight."

Myrna walked away before Alfred recovered enough from his confusion. She heard a brief "Wait! You aren't the-", but didn't slow down to hear the rest. Whatever else Alfred had to offer, she wasn't interested. In fact, she could do with a break. Having talked for over an hour left her throat parched and she barely had any chance to taste some of the offered delectable morsels at the buffet. It was, after all, one of the perks original Myrna had tempted her with.

Filling a small plate and grabbing a flute of bubbly, Myrna made her way to one of the secluded balconies. Hopefully, here, she could catch a brief break from the social theater around her. It was exhausting and it was no wonder the original Myrna had outsourced the experience.

Balcony after balcony was taken up by one or two revelers who needed a quiet moment. Just like her. At last, she spotted an empty one and stepped in. Just to find out she was mistaken, a deep voice spoke up.

"Just the person I wanted to see. Take a seat."

Myrna turned around to apologize and excuse herself when the app provided the details to the person addressing her. Alvaro Castro. CEO and owner of Castro Analytics. Not to mention the little detail that he was the father of the original Myrna.

The shock nearly made Myrna drop her plate, but she recovered in time. Caught like a deer in the headlights, Myrna froze. How should she react? Stick to the act and pretend to be this stranger's daughter? That was crazy. Maybe it was better to be open and address his boss as a good company worker should.

"Mister Castro." She gave a slight bow. Myrna didn't dare to do more or scatter canapés around. That would make for an even worse introduction. "I wasn't made aware that you would be attending."

"How formal." Alvaro gave her a frown that was more resigned than chagrined. "Please, call me Alvaro. Or father. Yes, to break the vale for a moment, you are an actor. Humor me, will you. Apparently, this is the only kind of father-daughter time I get nowadays."

Myrna hesitated for a moment. Her "father" appeared approachable enough, but she couldn't forget that he was her boss. More specifically, Zane's boss. "Very well, father." The last word was a little bit forced. This was just plain weird, but she reckoned going through would be easier than around. "I am sorry we haven't seen each other lately. The business keeps me busy."

"The business-" Alvaro gave a sudden sharp laugh. "Good one. Oh, I know, daughter. You do work a lot of hours. Managing way too many branch offices on your own and nearly tearing my head off every time I suggest splitting the load with more people. It is commendable." He gave off a sigh that Myrna interpreted as being finished, but he suddenly flippantly continued. "Then again, I wish you would come home after work instead of taking one of our clients' androids for a joy ride, just to screw one of our employees. Not that I fault you for that. Despite the risk of HR complaints or scandals. But I'd love to see you for dinner more often. Please remember this later."

Myrna went rigid as alarm bells went off in her head. It wasn't easier this time, just because they were figurative. She might actually prefer the encounter with Alfred over this awkward situation. Did he know about the joy rides? Did original Myrna know that he knew? And the fact that most of these were with Zane wasn't lost on Myrna. Just how much did Myrna's father know? Was this his way of telling Zane off?

Myrna was just about to reluctantly speak up when Alvaro continued. "Say, what is keeping my daughter busy this evening."

"There was this business opportunity. An unexpected meeting-" Myrna started and immediately stopped as he began to chuckle.

"Business meeting? On any other day, I wouldn't doubt that excuse. You, my daughter, should think about that. Stay a little longer. Say, an hour, and then head back to the branch office you came from. Have a peek at that meeting." Another quiet chuckle, before Alvaro dropped the next bomb. "Zane Graves. Junior doll rigger. Or what do they call it nowadays in the maintenance bays? Joga dance doll? Zane Graves. Employed for a little over a year with our company. Good remarks in the file. Didn't flunk out like most of the newly hired. Does well, overall, I would say. But the question remains, my daughter. Why Zane Graves?"

The blush wouldn't leave her face no matter how often Myrna nervously swallowed. What could she say? This man had her off balance in seconds and now, she ran a high risk that might get Zane fired. She had to be diplomatic.

"The business meeting was very short notice. Zane- " A fleeting thought nearly made her laugh. How strange was it to address her original self in the third person? This whole body swap business had her mind in a pretzel. "He was available on short notice. As a personal favor."

Alvaro nodded along slightly as Myrna explained. She could tell by the laugh lines around his eyes and the slight twist of the corner of his mouth that Alvaro was amused. But how much of it was contributed to Zane, past Myrna, or present Myrna?

"And I thought the agency we usually use has plenty of actors on stand-by. Let me check. Oh, look. Over a hundred are available. Even on short notice. All of them are women, as you usually prefer those to steer your body. So, the question remains. Why Zane Graves?" Alvaro quickly held up a hand in a placating manner. "No, perhaps I don't need to know the answer to this puzzle. But a friendly advice. Maybe Zane should find out, right?" The man leaned back with a hearty chuckle. "You look a bit pale, my daughter. Eat. Drink. And maybe after, how about a little father-daughter dance. If that is all I get from my daughter then I might as well take the opportunity."

Myrna looked down on her selection of delightful morsels and suddenly had no trace of hunger left. What was her counterpart up to? The original Myrna. Just how much of this evening was a fabrication? Had there been a sudden business meeting or was that just smoke and mirrors? Original Myrna didn't strike her as a planner and schemer. Yet how well did she know the original Myrna? Now and then she rushed into the office for some hectic orders or scattering of information and then she was gone. The most time Zane spent with her was when she jumped into one of the sex androids for a stress relief session after work. Not the finest time to get the hang of someone's personality.

Myrna's father was right. She should find out why Zane of all people was chosen. There had to be a reason. One that wasn't obvious. But there was a little time left before Myrna would confront her counterpart. Her hunger returned as she took the first few bites and Alvaro turned out to be a pleasant entertainer once the mysteries were pushed aside. Telling a few anecdotes from the early days of Castro Analytics. Myrna even enjoyed the little father-daughter dance.

But then, the time was up. Bidding her farewell from the hosts, Myrna made her way back to the car. It was time to face the mysteries surrounding this evening head-on.


Myrna

The office was dark when Myrna arrived. Safe for the flickering of lights coming from the maintenance bay. A smattering of voices could be heard. It didn't sound like a business meeting. Too much shouting for Myrna's taste. Then again, how many business meetings had she attended? Shouting might be normal.

Curious, but weary, Myrna made her way closer. Suddenly reminded of the many horror flicks she had seen in her lifetime. Then one shout broke through. "Touchdown!" It was followed by enthusiastic shouts by Zane. Her original body.

Myrna headed into the maintenance bay and froze at the sight. "What the-" Where did the large couch come from? One Zane was jumping up and down. An open beer in one hand. Probably from the cooler beside the couch. Beyond that bizarre sight was a large projection of a football game. Not just any game either. The Super Bowl.

"Myrna!" Zane shouted as he spotted her. "Perfect timing. Come. Come. It's so close, you won't believe it. Ten minutes left and the Sheffield Shewolves are in the lead. I am telling you. They got this in the bag."

Myrna was baffled. This was the scheme? The hidden truth behind everything? "You switched with me so you could watch the game?"

"Games! And not just any games!" an animated slightly drunk Zane insisted. "The games. A once in a lifetime event. The Sheffield Shewolves are about to win the WNFL. And because of a loophole, They can play in the NFL too. The match for the NFL Super Bowl starts a half hour after this one concludes. Can you imagine? If one team manages to win the Super Bowl of the WNFL and the NFL? In the same year! This is gonna be epic. I am telling you."

"I know. I wanted to watch it too!" An angry outburst was maybe not the best way to address her boss, but Myrna was furious. All this cloak and dagger stuff - not to mention the hints Alvaro dropped - just to find out someone wanted to blow off her Daddy so she could watch the games. In Zane's body no less. Couldn't she have hired-

Myrna's anger evaporated in a puff. "Why switch with me? And don't give me the crap about it being short notice or a lack of actresses to choose from. That bullshit and this had been premeditated and-"

"Shh!" Pretender Zane hugged her as the game resumed. "After the game, I'll explain everything. Promise."

Well, she wanted to see the games too, so Myrna stomped over and let herself fall onto the couch. She could wait a few minutes. Hopefully, by then, her emotions would have calmed down. It was ill-advised to tear off someone's head if they were currently occupying your body.

The game resumed with another bold play by the Sheffield Shewolves, but Myrna couldn't really concentrate. Now and then glancing at Zane. Or rather, her own body animated by a different soul. The mannerisms were so different. The Zane before her was bold and radiated a kind of strength that Myrna thought wouldn't come naturally to her.

There was also the smell. Yes, she could smell the half dozen drunken beers and the one in progress. But there was more. She needed a moment to pinpoint it. Was that sweat? It wasn't much, but surprisingly it wasn't that bad to her. She even kind of liked it and-

# Compatible pheromones detected. #
# Analyzing origin. #
# Pheromones evaluated as 100% natural #

Once again, the pop-up of the app brought Myrna's thought process to an abrupt stop. She needed a moment to parse the information. Then, it blurred out of her: "I am attracted to you?"

A chuckle was the answer. Followed by: "Took you long enough."

"An app literally pointed it out to me."

Zane used the remote to mute the game. "The Shewolves have it in the bag. Guess we can do it now." He turned around to Myrna. "Technically your body is attracted to my body. Well, yours is mine and mine is yours. Okay. This is getting confusing. Switch back and I explain?"

"Sounds good to me."

Myrna was directed to stand in the same alcove she had started her journey today. Impatiently, she waited as Zane made his way over to the transfer bed. Then, the familiar feeling of fading out encompassed her.


Zane

Once more, he was Zane. Glad to be back in his original body, Zane sat up, only to nearly fall over. Just how many beers did Myrna have in his body? It couldn't possibly be just a half dozen. For that, he felt too far gone from sobriety.

Speaking of the culprit, Myrna walked into a room and offered him a packaged pill. "Here. This will sober you up quickly."

A little glare and then Zane took the pill. Dry swallowing it a moment later. That the room stopped spinning just seconds later was a miracle he ignored. Standing up, he gave Myrna a serious look. "We need to talk." Myrna pointed with her head to the hallway and Zane followed her back towards the couch. They made themselves comfortable and Myrna grabbed another beer. Zane shook his head as she offered him one too. "What was this evening all about? And please, don't bullshit me. I know you are playing some kind of game. I just haven't figured out how all the pieces fit together."

"Alright." Myrna gave a short glance at the screen and then turned around fully to give Zane her whole attention. "Let's get the obvious out of the way. I am attracted to you. You are attracted to me. Or rather, our bodies are. Do you know the difference?"

For a moment, Zane wanted to point out that Myrna could have just told him she was attracted to him and have a talk about it. Like reasonable adults. But then Zane remembered the encounter with Alfred Bramsteen and his artificial pheromones. Clearly, there was more to it and Myrna wanted him to figure it out.

"I met someone named Alfred," Zane volunteered.

A flicker of a frown was all Zane could see before Myrna had herself under control. "I kind of hoped you would. You didn't kick him in the nuts, did you?"

"App said not to," Zane remarked but then shrugged his shoulders. "Didn't say not to slap him. He might still have the outline of your hand on his cheek."

"Well, serves him right." Myrna leaned back and then gave a deep sigh. "In the circles where I now live, bodily attraction is cheaply bought. Worse, it can be wielded as a weapon. As you might have figured out."

Was Myrna implying he was somehow trying to seduce her? She was the one fucking him silly in many late-night hours. Granted, as Candi or any of the other sex bots. Then again, could these androids be impacted by pheromones?

Zane squared his shoulders and gave it his best serious face. "I swear, I am not trying to seduce you or take advantage of you."

"I know." Myrna waved her hands as if that could fan out the accusation faster. "But I had to confirm first. You know, it ain't just people like Alfred. Corporate espionage can be a wicked beast. If I tell you that it is possible to tailor a human clone exactly to the liking of a target person, would you believe me? All that is left is to find the right soul to steer it. Lots of those are waiting in the welfare slums and eager for an opportunity like that. Smuggle the candidate onto the recruitment list of the company with the target and wait for the magic to happen. Sounds like bad fiction, but no, this is the world we live in. When I first found myself attracted to you, I suspected it, but I couldn't find any evidence confirming it. But the whole point is, the whole concept of love is defunct."

Zane frowned. Like many, he hoped one day to find the one person. Someone to share his life with. Myrna's statement was a bleak one. Could he trust his own heart? If Myrna was right, the answer was no.

"Love is dead?" Zane asked. "Is that what this whole evening was all about?"

"Love is-" Myrna stopped and obviously thought about it. "A little thought experiment. We are attracted to each other and give it a go. Have a relationship. Maybe fall in love. But what happens with our love when we switch bodies? What would be left if we take away our bodily attraction?"

Love was defunct. Now Zane got it. One could still fall in love. But that was one's own body tricking a person into mistaking physical attraction for spiritual attraction. What if they started to date and then switched bodies? What would be left?

"I barely know you," Zane concluded. "The person behind the body. Behind any body you choose to inhabit. That's a poor foundation for a relationship."

"There is something else," Myrna added. Then hesitated to explain. A swig of beer helped to give her courage. "Do you know yourself? I mean, you are from the welfare slums. God, I hate them. Not you." Myrna was quick to grab Zane's arm. Her fingers kept lingering on it even as she continued. "Not even the people. I hate the concept of welfare slums. Everything you know growing up is shaped to make you all perfect candidates for various jobs. It goes beyond your basic education and whatever training courses they offer. Even your very hobbies or entertainment is restricted to those making you either more suitable or docile."

The obligatory protest was on Zane's tongue, but he stopped himself. The more he thought about it, the more it rang true. Two aspects of his welfare slum life had been watching porn and doing yoga. If anyone had asked him two years ago if either of those would help him land a job, Zane would have laughed in their face. Yet both activities had come up in the job interview he had with Myrna.

And what about now? Zane still had the same hobbies and interests as before. Reading books, doing yoga, watching porn, and a few minor activities. Just in a nicer environment. His own apartment. Granted, he wasn't much into porn anymore. The allure waned when one fucks their boss regularly in different pornstar-worthy sex androids.

The conclusion was a harsh one. "I am boring because I am one of millions from the same mold."

"That is not the point I wanted to make." Her gaze was piercing as she passionately explained. "People from the slums can be roughly put into two boxes. Number one, those that now can afford many new things and go ham buying stuff. Making debts fast and usually crash and burn within a few months. I would say that's not you. The second type hoards whatever money they can and squirrel it away for the off-chance they get fired again. Their lives are barely different than before. Nicer clothes, their own place, and better food. But they cling to who they were before. Because that's how they were taught to act. But Zane now is your time. There is uniqueness in you. It was paved over by the government and their strict education. But now is the time. You can break out of the mold. Find out who you really are."

There was a saying that came to Zane's mind at that moment: Live a little! Myrna was right. He had been stuck in a rut and hadn't even known about it. Myrna's reveal was eye-opening. Was he really living? What was there besides work? Was he blinded by cheap pleasures and failed to see the real opportunities? Myrna was right indeed. He should explore a bit. Find new hobbies. Ways to express himself. But there was indeed a problem. As much as Zane tried to come up with ideas of things to try, his mind failed him. Up to now, he had walked around with blinders on him and failed to interact with his surroundings. He escaped from the welfare slums, but it was still deep within his heart. Who was he? If Zane couldn't answer that to himself, how could anyone else?

"You have a point. Several good points. I-" Zane pinched his nose and then ran his hand through his hair. Myrna just about shattered his entire worldview. Granted, she had been gentle while doing so, but the damage was done. Yet, he recognized that he couldn't have walked forever in ignorance. This talk had been necessary. That didn't mean that it left him in a good spot. "I don't know how to go from here."

"I can't help you there. Well, I can, but I won't." Seeing the slight hurt in Zane's eyes, she rushed to explain. "Remember my not-so-hypothetical case of hiring a person from the slums to honey-trap someone from the competition? It's common. Worse, some people do it to themselves. Build the perfect lover. Falling in love: guaranteed. No surprises. You know exactly what you get."

"That sounds sad. And boring in a way." Why had Myrna directed the discussion to this topic? Zane didn't have to think very hard. "You feel that guiding me could inadvertently cause exactly that. Even unintended."

"That and-" Myrna softly squeezed his arm as assurance. "I want you to develop yourself without influence. Look, pheromones aside, I like you. But I don't want you to bend yourself into a shape just so we can be together. Don't set that as a goal. Become who you feel comfortable to be. And then, in two or three years, we will see. Maybe we will give it a shot. Or we just end up as friends. Even just remaining co-workers is okay. All of these variants are desirable in their own way."

Zane gave her a nod, but couldn't agree on all points. "I am not sure just staying as co-workers can be desirable. A relationship aside, becoming friends sounds better than nothing."

Myrna gave him a bemused smile. "You had an evening in my body. Walked in the circles I do. What is your verdict about high society?"

Instead of answering quickly, Zane gave it some thought. Step by step he went through the evening. Now with the added insight that Myrna had given him. The superficial meeting with the hosts. The run-in with Alfred. Chatting with many acquaintances about trivialities with no real substance. In a way, it was sad and a feeling of pity for Myrna flared up within Zane. The only real connection she appeared to have was with her father and that relationship appeared to be strained too.

"It's a farce," Zane concluded out loud. "The whole evening was fake. Superficial and no substance. It was a lot and not in a good way. I am sorry you have to endure that."

"I don't mind. Was born into it, really." Myrna tried to sound nonchalant, but Zane could hear it was anything but. "Truth is, I have plenty of friends that are as fake as they get. Acquaintances I have known for years and never really met. Believe me, Zane, I don't need another fake friend. I prefer a cordial co-worker over that. And so should you. But this isn't about me. It is about you and your decision. Just know this, if we ever get into a relationship - even just as friends - you will be drawn into that world. Not everyone can stomach that. You have to make up your mind if you are willing to accept that part of our world."

Zane remained quiet for a moment and contemplated all he had heard this evening. It was a lot. Then, a sharp laugh escaped him. Myrna looked at him wearily and he decided to clue her in. "All my life, I thought those wealthy people up in their towers must have it good. Luxury and freedom. But I am starting to think the whole system is rotten. From top to bottom."

"Not everything. There are niches. Spots where one can blossom. My father and I agree that we at Castro Analytics try to create as many of those spaces as we can, but it is hard. Fighting against the waves. But we are making progress. Stay with us and we will give you the best opportunity to find yourself and live a good life."

Zane had to agree. There was no doubt in his mind that most other companies never gave a shit about their employees and if they blossomed or withered away. But here, it was different. Sure, usually he saw Myrna rush by their office. Come and gone in seconds. But there was passion there. Not to mention that she cared.

"I think I need to do a lot of self-reflection."

"I know," Myrna softly said with empathy. Then suddenly perked up. "Look, the next game is starting. Go Sheffield Shewolves!"

Zane gave it a weak chuckle. For the rest of the evening, they watched the game. But most of it, Zane didn't pay attention. His mind was on other things. Who was he and what did he want to become? Simple questions that were surprisingly hard to figure out. By halftime, he only knew one thing: he wouldn't solve this mystery tonight. It helped him enjoy the rest of the game.

The end.


Author’s Note

Dear Reader.

Thank you for making it through another Maintenance Workout story. I know, originally the Maintenance Workout stories were all about sexy fun and hijinx. But it was time for Zane to have a bit of character development and it gave me pause. Where did I want to go with this series?

The next few installments will be a bit more serious too. But don’t worry. There will be more sexy hijinx too. Provided my dear readers vote for this series again. Speaking of. This story was voted for on my Discord server. If you want to have a say in it too, you can join for free here: Cassy's Library

Until next time.

Hugs and kisses,

Cassy



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