"J. Kyle, Ph. D. and C. K."
by Brandy Dewinter
(c 2010, All rights reserved)
Chapter 1 - "The 'X' Factor"
"Dr. Kyle, your new samples are here," the cute girl reported pertly. Or pert girl reported cutely. The sequence didn't matter, but all who thought about Madison Bailey were legally required - unwritten law, perhaps, but definitely binding - to include 'cute' and 'pert' in their mental image. She was everyone's kid sister, cheerful and precociously inquisitive about everything, if a 22-year-old college graduate - even one who still looked sixteen - could be considered 'precocious.' Well, perhaps it would be accurate to say that her face looked sixteen, with its wide, sky-blue eyes and 'cute' little nose. Her body made a much more mature statement. The combination screamed cheerleader, or worse, bimbo. There had only been one person who appreciated her so-well-disguised intellect.
Unfortunately for Madison, even for those who only appreciated what they saw on the outside, there was no requirement to include 'sensual' or 'glamorous' in anyone's mental image of her. At one point she had tried to work on that, arranging her fine golden hair in something other than a pert ponytail, outlining her lips with vivid color, and covering with dramatic makeup the explosion of freckles that stood out so cutely from her pale skin. It hadn't worked. People stared asking if she were feeling well, or just assumed she was ill without asking, sending looks of pity her way. So Madison bowed to the inevitable and just bounced her way through life - pertly.
Her mentor and lead scientist for the project she was working on would not be considered 'pert'. Nor 'cute', even in any sense that might apply to men. Dr. Jeremy Kyle looked like a poorly-designed attempt at a barely-humanoid robot. Paper-thin skin bulged sharply around hard corners of knobby bones unrelieved by any apparent muscle. Internal gears seemed to slip and catch in his jerky, graceless movements. Hair, while clearly in order, seemed flat and stiff - not the stiffness of hair tonic, just the lifeless rigidity of old wood. Only his Harry Potter glasses implied any human realism, and they were themselves a sign of imperfection. One would not have picked him from a lineup as the world's foremost expert on human sexual attractiveness, though indeed that is what he was.
Of course, this seemingly sexless near-robot was the only person who appreciated Madison's mind.
"Excellent, Madison, whom do we have this time?" creaked Kyle, his harsh, atonal voice jarring the ears like rusty machinery.
"Um," stalled the blonde - cutely - as she read the labels, then she gasped. "Ohmigod, you got Sophia Loren?!"
"Indeed," Kyle nodded smugly. "Very gracious of her to donate a sample." His smugness was based on the knowledge that the 'donation' had been facilitated by a corresponding 'donation' to Ms. Loren from the project's research budget, though to be fair Kyle reminded himself that Ms. Loren had in turn donated her honorarium to a charity she favored.
"I don't recognize this other name," Madison said. "A, um, Mrs. Anya Bridger?"
"Really?" Kyle questioned, now showing enthusiasm of his own as he snatched at the sample.
Madison was long past being offended at his brusque manner. Since his motions were always jerky and abrupt, she knew he would have snatched at the sample if it were lying on the table.
"Who is she?" asked Madison as she looked over his shoulder while he confirmed the label.
"No one you would know," Kyle replied. "I met her once at a conference on vacation adventures. Her husband was one of the speakers."
"You went to a conference on vacation adventures?" Madison asked in disbelief.
"It was part of my research," Kyle replied sheepishly. They both knew that he was not the adventurous type. He continued his explanation to cover his . . . embarrassment was too strong of a description . . . resigned disappointment would be better. "She was the most sensual and devastatingly attractive woman I have ever met. I knew right then that my research would be meaningless without her data."
"Wow," Madison said breathlessly. "Better even than Sophia Loren?" Before Kyle could answer her question, her voice took on a heartbreakingly wistful tone as she repeated, "wow."
Now it was her turn to cover a moment of vulnerability, so she pumped up the pertness and asked, "How many samples do you have now?"
"Twenty-five, with these," he reported proudly. "That is the minimum for a statistically meaningful sample. Now I can really make progress!"
Not the least of Kyle's anonymity was because he labored in secret. No government bureaucracy supported his research with their grants and eventual ownership of results. His funding came from the relentless pragmatism of corporate America, specifically from a consortium of advertising agencies. And the best way for them to safeguard their considerable investment was through secrecy. It was selective secrecy in which they made no secret that they were researching human sexual attractiveness - after all, 'sex sells' was a truism of advertising when Eve was convincing Adam that fruit was an aphrodisiac. However, the specifics of Dr. Kyle's research were closely guarded secrets. Secrecy was further enhanced by placing the research institute in a relatively obscure "flyover zone" location. The Consortium had chosen Colorado Springs for the lab, taking advantage of the fact it was one of the most beautiful places in the country to attract scientists who had to agree not to write papers on their work.
Kyle's research began from a simple question. What makes some people more sexually attractive than others? There were simple answers to that question, at least in part. Health was the first and most fundamental answer. The definition of 'health' had changed through the ages, from the fullness of Rubinesque curves when starvation was a real health problem even in the 'civilized' world, to the slender ideal of contemporary America where obesity or at least lack of exercise were signs of less-than optimal health. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Another apparently obvious factor had turned out to be something of a blind alley. Secondary sexual characteristics were significant, but much less so than conventional wisdom would indicate. Big bosoms on a woman, or height for a man were attention getting and were even dominating attraction triggers for segments of the population, but the broad base of consumers that interested the Advertising Consortium were as likely to become enamored of a Sandra Bullock or Tom Cruise as a Dolly Parton or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The big secret just eluding Dr. Jeremy Kyle's grasp was the genetic basis for unusual attractiveness. Twenty-four of his samples were drawn from among the most famously sensual women in the world - young stars and enduring beauties both. Only Anya Bridger was not famous, and she was a special case - a very special case as it would turn out.
It was no accident that Kyle had chosen only women to sample. In fact, it was a fundamental premise of his research. Advertisers had long known that attractive women were appealing to both men and women in their targeted consumer base. Men desired the women in the ads. Other women wanted to be the woman in the advertisements. Both paid attention. And it was no secret at all that women paid an order of magnitude more than men for things they believed would make them more attractive. In the economic calculus of advertising, focusing on women was an obvious requirement.
However, Dr. Kyle had plans of his own. Kyle focused his research on chromosomes other than the sexually-specific XX pair. For all that he appeared to be the stereotypical detached scientist driven by passion only for his work, deep within Jeremy Kyle's heart lurked a very reasonable, though surprising (at least to his colleagues) desire to be attractive himself. He had ostentatiously opted out of the chase after women rather than suffer inevitable and ignominious defeat, but that merely repressed his desire, forcing it to fester in the dark loneliness of his empty world. So, though his source material was all from women, he concentrated in areas of the genome that applied to men as well.
It was on the sixth chromosome pair that he found his personal holy grail. Millions, even billions of nucleotide sequences defined the human genome. As the data from a thousand researchers accumulated, the problem became even more complex, not less. Originally, it had been assumed that the majority of genes would be consistent among all humans. After all, livers are livers and retinas are retinas. Some gene must control each.
In fact, many genes controlled each, and in a many-to-many mapping where individual nucleotide sequences seemed to be part of the definition of multiple and seemingly independent characteristics. Some of this was already known. As Madison so cutely demonstrated, blonde hair and blue eyes had a strong correlation. But that actually made things worse, because it 'proved' that the gene for eye color, while somehow related to hair color, was not a simple relationship or else there wouldn't be any blue-eyed brunettes or dark-eyed blondes at all.
"Get these samples in the scanner a soon as possible, Madison," he ordered. "This could be the confirmation of my results."
"Eureka!" he crowed a short while later. Then his angular face wrapped itself around an unfamiliar grin and he said, "You know, I've always wanted to say that."
"Dr. Kyle?" asked Madison in surprise. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Never better, m'dear, never better," he assured her, not that his words helped. Their unexpected lightness, inefficient repetition, even the familiarity of calling her a 'dear' were so unlike the mechanistic Kyle that Madison was truly worried.
She was about to call for help - though she had no clue whom to call or what to ask for - when Dr. Kyle offered an explanation.
"It's the sixth chromosome pair, you see," he began. "I've identified a nucleotide sequence that is shared by unusually attractive people, yet uncommon in the general populace."
"Oh," replied Madison, uncertainly. "That's, um, good news, right?"
"Absolutely!" he confirmed, pointing at a cryptic display that illuminated nothing to the wide-eyed blonde. "There is over a 90% correlation on this sequence of 14 locations, and over 95% correlation on these 12 locations. Do you know what the odds on that are?"
"Um, no," she admitted.
"Oh, well, no reason you should, I suppose," he admitted in his turn. "Let me put it this way. The chances of that happening randomly are less than the odds of winning the lottery - six times in a row."
"But doctor, didn't you, um, sort of stack the deck?" Madison sighed and said, "I mean, these are all pretty, and, well, brunettes even. Why shouldn't they have similar genes?"
"I took all that into account," he snapped. "Besides, the proof is in Anya Bridger's data."
He called up another inexplicable screen that showed two parallel rows of letter sequences. "She has the sequence, all 14 locations, on both of her sixth chromosomes. It's doubled!"
"Dr. Kyle, isn't that impossible?"
"A scientist should not say something is impossible," Kyle lectured her. "Of course, the statistics make this decidedly improbable. However, there must be an explanation - probably something at the moment of fertilization resulted in a particular sequence doubling. After all, it's not like this could be artificial. That would take, ah, magic, and we know actual magic is impossible. So Ms. Bridger is just an extremely lucky woman who was blessed with a double dose of sensual attractiveness. It does confirm the importance of this sequence though, since she is truly that desirable."
"Goodness, doctor, does her husband know you feel that way?" Madison gently chided him.
The pale, thin skin stretched over Kyle's cheekbones showed a moment of unusual color. Then he shrugged and did not quite answer her question. "It doesn't matter. It's clear that, ah, Ethan Bridger is the only man in her world, as she is the only woman in his. But the data, now, those are important!"
"Yes, sir," Madison dutifully replied. "Um, what are you going to do with it?"
"Do with it?" he repeated, then a furtive look tripped across his bony brow for a moment before he shrugged again. "Well, we have to report these results, of course. There's a board meeting on Thursday, so this is very timely."
"Dr. Kyle?" asked Madison. "Even if this truly is some sort of genetic signpost of attractiveness . . . ." At his frown she rephrased, "I mean, even though you've found the signpost, this can only affect a new embryo, right? I mean, you can't change an adult's DNA. Are you going to, like, make designer babies or something?"
Again the furtive look added additional lumps to his bony brow, but he quickly shook his head. "No, we're not going to change a child's DNA. This is research, Madison, and valuable for its own sake. I'm sure we can find some way to use it, ah, eventually."
Then a craftier look adjusted the furrows surrounding his eyes, and he suggested, "Why don't you take the rest of the day off? In honor of, ah, our discovery. I'll just clean up a little. In fact, why don't you take the rest of the week off?"
"Oh, Dr. Kyle, it's already Friday anyway," she snickered.
"Is it?" he asked distractedly, already turning back to his machines.
After Madison had left, Kyle stopped his claimed cleanup work and moved to yet another laboratory table. From an incubator, he took a small vial of clear liquid and moved it to a microscope.
"Get ready to change the world, my little gems," he crooned. Well, almost a croon. It still sounded like a rusted gate swinging in the breeze, but at least it was a somewhat drawn-out creak.
Using the computerized micro-manipulators that were installed with the microscope, he carefully tacked a bit of DNA onto the core strain in what the screen showed to be a relatively simple virus. Then he inserted the genetically modified germ into a forced-growth nutrient solution.
14 April. 8:00 PM.
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research
Private Journal: J Kyle, Ph.D.
I have attached the attractiveness DNA, all 14 sequences, to a particularly infectious virus, Strain 91-A, and forced growth/reproduction to achieve a quantity of modified examples. The ordinary effect of this virus is limited to rapid parasitic reproduction, followed by breakdown of the protein shell as antibodies combat the foreign antigen. This releases the internal DNA molecule, which functions as RNA and triggers various types of cell activity. At the micro level, this strain of virus is particularly effective at triggering rapid cell reproduction. Typically, these cells are in turn consumed as 'factories' creating more of the virus. Only the weakness of the protein shell, making it susceptible to attack by host antibodies, prevents this virus from being dangerously virulent. However, the only effect at the macro level is a slight fever, followed by tiredness and mild hunger as the body tries to recover from the accelerated activity.
It is my expectation that with the addition of the attractiveness nucleotide sequence more significant cell changes might result. It is not clear exactly what effects should be expected. As this is not on a sex-related chromosome, there should not be any effect on primary or secondary sexual characteristics, of course. However, relative to the average female, those whose DNA contained this sequence demonstrated desirable characteristics in non-sex-specific areas as well. Examples include clear, smooth skin, pleasantly modulated voices, well-toned musculature, and thick, healthy hair. All of these attributes work also to enhance attractiveness of males, and all will, unfortunately, be sufficiently distinct from my current characteristics to provide unambiguous confirmation of my experiments if there is any externally visible macro effect.
Initiation of virus effects on otherwise-healthy cells begins approximately 8 hours from infection. It is my intention to return to my home, infect myself with the modified virus, and then sleep until the RNA begins to have an effect on my cells. In this way, I can be awake and alert for the majority of the infection cycle. However, in the event the results are not as expected and I am incapacitated, this journal record will be released to my assistant on Monday morning. Risks in the name of science are sometimes necessary, but it is not logical to take the risk that my discovery, and its effects, will be lost to the world.
Chapter 2 - "Calendar Daze"
Birds singing is a cliche way to start a morning. On the other hand, it certainly beat the sound of trash cans clashing off the side of a refuse truck. As was so often the case for Dr. Jeremy Kyle, when life offered two theoretical possibilities - one pleasant and one jarring - it was a foregone conclusion which one would occur. Sometimes it's better to be caught in a cliche.
*On the other hand,* he thought with a wry smile, *that was the best night's sleep I've had in . . . well, in I don't know how long.*
Stumbling into the bathroom still more asleep than awake, it took another cliche - a splash of cold water in his face - before he remembered the real significance of a morning wakeup.
*Oh, yes! The effects of the potion! What has happened?*
He quickly made a few simple observations: weight seemed to be essentially the same, down a pound or two, pulse was slightly elevated. He felt refreshed and invigorated, but this might have been merely the result of a very good night's sleep.
He pulled a sweater on over the gray sweatpants he slept in, then slipped his feet into battered, no-name sneakers. Coffee had never been his savior in the morning, so his next stop was the curb in front of the house where he lived. It was not really a home in any meaningful way. Like the owner, the small bungalow was isolated and plain, noticeable only for a feeling that the place was neglected, though not really rundown.
He was all the way back to the house when an anomaly registered in his awakening consciousness. "Why the hell are the trash guys doing pickup on Saturday?" he grumbled. "Probably just because I did manage to sleep late for once, so they had to make noise"
Flipping the paper open he laid it on the counter. Reading the headlines over his shoulder, he reached for milk and cereal without looking, fingers finding them in their accustomed places. That's when another anomaly twanged his awareness.
"Monday?" he blurted. "How . . . ?"
There was no way the paper made a mistake, of course. He knew that. But he still had to check. The other sections of the paper made the same claim, and so did the TV morning news shows. Monday. Not Saturday. Not even Sunday. Two whole days gone. Three whole nights.
That raised a new set of questions. If he'd been unconscious for three days, why hadn't his bodily functions resulted in a nasty mess in the bed? Why wasn't he dehydrated? For that matter, three days in bed and he should have felt weak as a kitten. Instead, he felt better than he could remember; energetic and renewed like it truly had been the best sleep of his life.
*None of this makes any sense,* he thought, *but the cause - if not the explanation - is pretty clear. That potion has some entirely unexpected side effects.*
He was more awake now than when he had gone out to get the newspaper, so when he took his clothes off in preparation for his morning shower, he noticed another side effect of the potion that he had missed before. His legs, in fact his whole body, was smoothly hairless. He'd never had a thick mat of chest hair, nor - thank God - back hair, but what hair he had was dark and it showed pretty clearly. Or at least it used to show. The rational observer behind his eyes noted this as yet another datum to be integrated, just as the recognition his face was also smoothly hairless was noted, along with the potential time saving from not needing to shave.
*It's a good thing the potion didn't make me bald,* he mused while he shampooed his hair. *If I can isolate some of these effects, we'll have something marketable, as a sleep aid if nothing else.*
A twinge while he washed his now-sleek legs drew his attention to a tiny cut near his knee. *I don't remember that. Hmmm.*
* * * * * *
When Dr. Kyle entered his lab area, he found Madison already at work. She had a look of concern on her face when he first saw her, but that was replaced with an unusual look of pleasure when she in turn saw him.
"Dr. Kyle, you look, um, different this morning. Really good."
"Different?" he asked. "How?"
"It's hard to say," the cute girl said with pert amusement. "You look, um, more alert maybe? And I don't know, just neater somehow. I mean, like, did you get a new haircut?"
"No, that can't be it," she continued before he had a chance to reply. "If anything, your hair is longer, and certainly fuller, but. . . ."
"That's what it is!" she exclaimed, still rolling over any interruptions. "You dyed your hair!"
"I did not," he denied.
"Oh, come on, doctor, it's so obvious I wonder how I missed it even for a second. It was a sort of flat, medium-dark brown before, with a bit of gray starting to show. And now . . ."
"I'm telling you, I didn't do anything to my hair," the doctor insisted. But he looked at his reflection in a gleaming stainless-steel cabinet and fell silent. Instead of the nothing-special hair he had been accustomed to seeing in mirrors, his image showed a richness that just missed being sable black. Even the highlights seemed sharper, as though there was a shininess that clearly owed nothing to oiliness.
"I really didn't do anything, but I'm forced to admit the changes you mentioned do indeed seem to have occurred," he said quietly. *Actually, I think I noticed that before,* he continued to himself. *But the difference is subtle enough that I didn't pay much attention. Vanity, I suppose, because I hadn't really noticed the gray she mentioned, so I didn't really notice the, ah, improvement.*
"It looks good on you," Madison said lightly.
"Um, thank you," he replied, obviously already distracted by the notes he was making. Madison was used to being dismissed so casually, and was turning back to her own work when Dr. Kyle looked up at her.
"I'm sorry, Madison. Thank you for your compliment, and for, well, for caring enough to notice. I do appreciate it."
The pretty girl just smiled in return, but inside her thoughts were churning with a deeper amusement. *Wow! Dr. Kyle acted almost human there for a moment. I wonder what he did over the weekend.*
Dr. Kyle was wondering the same thing, recording it in his project journal.
17 April, 8:00 AM
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research Log
Private Journal: J. Kyle, Ph.D.
It would seem that I am suffering from a memory loss rather than an extended period of sleep. Darker hair may perhaps be a residual effect of the potion itself - after all, DNA samples were selected from brunettes only to eliminate a variable irrelevant to my particular goals. Yet my hair appears to have attained a color more like that demonstrated by my mother and several other members of my maternal bloodline. Why this should have occurred, when nothing else on the sixth chromosome pair has been reported to influence hair color is currently inexplicable. In addition, nothing in the potion should cause an external wound such as the small cut on my knee.
The second datum would seem to indicate some activity other than lying passively in bed through the weekend. Further, if I had been active through that period, the lack of dehydration and other physical problems would be explained. Now, what could have caused this memory loss?
This answer seems apparent, though of course additional research will be required. It must be connected with RNA. As a working hypothesis, it would seem that the potion consumed all available RNA during the period of effect, including that which would have formed the basis for memory RNA. Accordingly, whatever I did was not recorded in my memory. What can be done about this?
"Dr. Kyle?" Madison's gentle tones interrupted.
"Yes?" he replied abruptly, then once again checked himself. "Excuse me, that was also rude. I really must learn to be more polite." This time he accompanied his apology with a smile, a very warm and somehow . . . interesting smile.
*I never noticed he has such a nice smile,* Madison mused to herself.
"Madison?" asked Dr. Kyle, this time interrupting the young woman's train of thought. "You had a question?"
"Oh, um, yes sir. Sorry. Um, I was wondering when you were going to tell me what to prepare for the board meeting. Usually, you have some charts for me to make."
"Oh, yes. Let me see. Well, why don't you prepare a series of photos and background information on our donors? Um, leave out Mrs. Bridger, as she won't mean anything to the rest of the board. In fact, just pick a few of the more recognizable donors, along with a brief summary of their characteristics."
"Characteristics? You mean, like, height and weight and . . .?"
"Whatever you think is best," he said dismissively.
"Which . . . ?" Madison started to ask, but at the doctor's frown she broke off her question and just nodded.
*Which donors should I pick?* she wondered, then a wistful sigh escaped as she thought, *all the donors are so wonderfully beautiful, and glamorous. All the things that I can never be.*
She could have finished her task more quickly if she had not lost herself in little fantasy daydreams of what the life of famously beautiful women must be like. Some of Dr. Kyle's candidate donors were from a little before her time, like Sophia Loren, but she certainly knew who Shania Twain and Sandra Bullock were. And TV stars like Angie Harmon and Teri Hatcher. Madison snickered to herself as she thought that Beyonce Knowles had changed her hair color a few times, but it was pretty obvious what her 'real' hair must have looked like.
Madison's thoughts took another side trip as she let her fingers compile the repetitive data. *I wonder what motivated Dr. Kyle to do his hair? It really makes an amazing difference. And there's something else, something . . . ?*
The blonde's ponytail twitched as she tried to glance at her mentor without being obvious.
*If I didn't know better,* she mused, *I'd think he had trimmed up his eyebrows, too. He never allowed anything as unkempt as the bushy-browed absent-minded professor sort of thing, but I swear, it looks almost like he shaped them a little.*
The thought of the rusty-robot scientist doing anything as 'metrosexual' as plucking his eyebrows squeezed a giggle past Madison's lips, though - as usual - Dr. Kyle seemed oblivious.
*That's another thing,* she thought. *He actually apologized twice. In one day. And for being rude, though it was just his normal sort of focus on the job rather than the people doing it. Goodness, even his voice is more pleasant than before. I wonder if he actually did go to one of those, um, makeover things!*
"Dr. Kyle?" she asked, daring to interrupt his own concentration. "Did you have a good weekend?"
"What?" he replied, jerking his head up. "What did you say?"
"I just wondered if you had enjoyed your weekend," she repeated carefully, flushing a little with worry that he was angry.
"Oh, um, yes, thank you. And you?"
At the polite reply, including an indication of actual care for another human being's quality of life outside of scientific necessity, Madison decided that Dr. Kyle must indeed have been to some sort of personality improvement course. "Oh, it was okay, I guess," she replied easily, secretly satisfied with her deductive powers.
But she was a bit wistful, as well. *My weekend was not as interesting as what you did, I'll bet.*
* * * * * * *
The board meeting did not go well.
It started out well. Very well, as a matter of fact. While Dr. Kyle was professionally respected, the three men and two women of the board had always seemed to treat him as the 'hired help.' He had a purpose, but it wasn't like he was someone with a value outside of his data; someone 'real' in their world.
There might have been a basis of truth in that perception - both his perception of the way they considered him, and that he really didn't have any life outside of his data. But if that were the case, then it made their welcome for this particular meeting especially remarkable.
Ed Grainger, the chairman of the consortium research management board, was an accountant. He filled the seat allocated to Wallerton-Paine, a holding company that was the principal investor in the cosmetics consortium. One presumed he recited amortization tables before bedtime, rather than pray to some being without even a Social Security number. As in many organizations, the board took on much of his character and Kyle knew to bring financial analysis to each and every meeting, even if the analysis was little more than a promise of data to come with lots of blanks yet unfilled.
Yet Sharon Leica and Patricia Falken, the two female members of the board, had their own definite effect as well. They understood - all too well as time's arrow left its trace on their faces - that cosmetics were as much about dreams as reality. They shared Grainger's insistence on concrete, fact-based business plans, but they were prone to put a lot more optimism into sales projections.
Paul Travis and John Carlsen, the remaining members of the board, had specialties in chemistry and manufacturing, respectively, but they were really there to represent the interests of their own corporate contributors. They had a disappointing tendency to refer every significant decision back to their own management, sometimes obstructing progress. However, their company contributions to the consortium earned them their seats at the table.
Dr. Kyle's typical management reviews had consisted of quick data dumps only Travis understood, along with financial grilling and pro forma insistence that he 'work smarter, not harder,' and - oh, by the way - accelerate his progress. Every year or so, when Kyle found something marketable and so reported, they would perk up and perform a little verbal power dance as they tried to claim credit for having guided his research successfully - overlooking his own creative contribution even as they absorbed the results.
This meeting was different from the moment he entered the room. Instead of ignoring him as they continued a previously started conversation that clearly did not need his contribution, they one-by-one looked at him and stopped talking.
"What?" he asked nervously.
The pontifically gruff Grainger actually smiled at the slender scientist and said, "Welcome to the monthly review, Dr. Kyle. I trust you have something interesting to tell us?"
"Yes," the scientist replied, tersely.
"Good, good," the chairman said with avuncular warmth.
That's when the meeting really started to depart from normal practice. The board actually paid attention to his briefing, both with body language and with relevant questions. It was going very well, until they reached the same point that Madison had picked up on earlier.
"But," interrupted Travis, "how does identifying an 'attractiveness gene' help adults? Wouldn't any changes have to be made to fetal cells?"
"Well, um, there may be . . ," Kyle's attempt at an explanation started out poorly, since he didn't want to reveal the use of a carrier virus.
"Hey," the scientist was interrupted yet again, this time by Carlsen. "Could that be used to regenerate hair cells?" His interest in that was obvious, even without the motion of his hand over his shining pate.
"Um, maybe," Kyle temporized yet again. "I haven't . . ."
Falken's interruption might have seemed like another step in a bad comedy skit, except for the fierce intensity in her tone as her own conclusion surfaced. "Designer babies!"
The other female board member, Leica, responded to Falken's idea with no less intensity, for all that her voice was almost whisper-soft. "Oh. My. God."
Grainger tried to get the meeting back under control. "Dr. Kyle, just what is the potential for modifying adult DNA?"
Kyle never got a chance, as Leica's voice, now back to more-normal tones, rode over any response.
"Ed," she said, "you're missing the real opportunity here. We have the chance to literally remake the world. We can offer women a virtual guarantee that their babies will be attractive. That's . . . . hell, 'enormous' is too small a word."
"Babies?" Grainger repeated.
"Absolutely," Ms. Falken confirmed. "Every woman in the world - well, all the ones with money - will want our little strand of DNA. You cannot possible imagine how much a mother-to-be will pay for a guarantee of a beautiful child."
"But," Kyle said, "that's not what this is about. And the risks. We don't know if there will be side effects, or . . ."
"Don't you see?" Falken continued. "That's what makes this perfect. If there's a problem, the woman can just terminate the first one and try again . . ."
"The 'first one?'" Kyle gasped. "A baby is not a 'thing,' to be discarded if it's not . . ."
"Oh, grow up," snapped Leica. "This is not the place for politics."
"The FDA will never . . ," tried Kyle.
"Screw the FDA," Leica snarled. "We can get this done in Mexico, or, wherever. Thailand, maybe. For that matter, there are any number of private fertility clinics in this country."
"We'll get a Nobel prize," Grainger said, lights of avarice beginning to gleam in his eyes.
"No," Carlsen disagreed. "If we do what Sharon suggests, we'll have to keep this secret. Certainly it would need to be officially secret, for all that we'll make sure the word gets around in the right circles."
Grainger nodded and turned to Kyle. "How soon can you be ready to test this?"
"Test?" repeated the scientist.
"Yes," Grainger confirmed. "We need to try this gene splicing as soon as possible."
"But I'm not set up for . . ."
"We can get you what you need," the chairman said dismissively. "Fertilized eggs are a dime a dozen in fertility clinics. That's what they do."
"You know, Ed," Patricia Falken said thoughtfully, "we might not need fertilized eggs. The data show that even one chromosome with the right sequence is pretty effective."
"Is that true, Doctor?" Grainger demanded.
"Well, yes," Kyle replied, "though there is a greater impact if both chromosomes of the sixth pair have the sequence. But we can't just . . ."
"Good," interrupted Grainger again. "That fits even better with in vitro techniques. We can modify the egg only, and allow fertilization from any donor sperm. This is going to be huge!"
The board members spiraled off into overlapping schemes of wealth and power, leaving the stunned scientist in their backwash. When it was clear they did not feel the need for any further contribution from him, Kyle picked up his materials and left the conference room.
Ostentatious displays of anger were incongruous on a man as short and slim as Jeremy Kyle. He had learned this a long time before, when any such demonstrations elicited condescending laughter, as though his passions were the temper tantrum of a child. Or perhaps with maturity had come better control of his emotions. So it was not his way to slam his papers down or throw things around the laboratory, even when experiments went awry.
More than that, anger was no longer his dominant emotion anyway. By the time he reached the door to the lab, horror had buried his first response - horror at what he had brought into the world. Or . . . was about to bring into the world? Could this still be stopped?
"Madison," he ordered sharply as he reached his work station. "Gather up all your notes. Everything, including any files on your computer. Put the electronic files on a disk, and purge your system. And bring me everything else: photos of those who provided samples, phone records that might identify them, everything!"
"What's wrong?" Madison asked even as she started to gather up her materials.
Dr. Kyle was ready to answer - directly, and with emphasis on what he thought of the board - when he realized he was actually planning something illegal. He hesitated, and the look of horror once again showed on the tautly stretched skin of his face.
"I can't let them . . ," he whispered.
"Let them do what?" prompted Madison.
The scientist sagged into his chair and sighed. "You were right, Madison. They want to use my results to make designer babies!"
Despite the sense of outrage this idea provoked in the rational parts of her mind, Madison felt something else as well - and was ashamed even as she knew it was real. A profound desire lurked in her heart. A perfect, guaranteed-beautiful baby? What would she give for such a promise? And if they were really planning to do it . . .
"And you don't . . ," she prompted again.
"Of course not," he snapped. "It is not up to us to play games with helpless infants, to treat them like prize breeding pets. People are . . . we need to be . . . better than that, Madison. Surely you see that!"
"Yes, Doctor, I do. Really. But . . ," the wistful note in her voice drew Kyle's attention sharply to her, but he was gratified to see her shrug after only a moment.
"But you're right," she continued firmly. "As much as I might want a beautiful baby, the potential for abuse is just too great."
"Exactly," Kyle agreed. "So we need to make sure no one can use our discovery for . . .for the wrong things."
"Doctor Kyle," Madison cautioned, "you do know that, legally, the consortium owns this data."
"I was just thinking about that," he said. "But I can't just let them . . ."
"This is where we were a moment ago," observed the now-somber redhead when the scientist's words trailed off into helplessness. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know, Madison. I just don't know."
Chapter 3 - "Cheryl"
Kyle's dilemma showed no signs of resolving itself quickly. Madison Bailey was actually the first to break from her unproductive thought spiral. She shook herself and looked at her mentor's hopeless stare.
"Doctor Kyle," she said, and when that didn't work she nudged him and repeated, "Dr. Kyle!"
"What, uh, what do you want?" he asked, blinking back into focus.
"Do you think they could, um, recreate your results, without, like, some of your data?"
"What do you mean?"
Madison looked guiltily around, and then walked over to the door of the lab. After ensuring no one was close, she closed the door and came back.
"How serious are you about keeping the board from doing what they're, um, talking about?"
"Very serious, Madison," he asserted with uncharacteristic firmness.
She continued thoughtfully. "Well, if all the data just, like, disappears, they'll figure out right away what's going on. Could they, um, recreate the key findings, based on what they know. Without, y'know, the full set of data?"
With a scientific question to consider - so much easier than all the political/personal sorts of things - Kyle's mind quickly addressed the problem. "Not really," he concluded. "Thank God we didn't include Anya Bridger's name in the presentation. She was really the key, since her sequence is doubled. When I started seeing commonality between the sequence on her sixth chromosomes and those of all the other samples, I knew I was on the right track. Without her data, and if we arranged a few other, um, selective gaps, I think they'd have a hard time getting a clear enough reading on the critical sequence."
He looked more closely at the young woman who had suddenly become his partner in conspiracy, as well as in research. "Are you really willing to - what should we call it? - sabotage this data? It will mean the end of your career if it's ever found out."
"Yes," she replied with calm assurance. "I never knew how you intended to use this research, Dr. Kyle, but I'm sure manipulating baby DNA to play off women's vanity was not in the plan. And I don't want to do that, either."
His expression softened into something almost tender - certainly not the mechanistic lack of humanity that had seemed to define him - as he looked at the too-cute young woman. "Thank you, Madison. I fear I've always taken you much too much for granted. I'm sorry."
"Oh, Dr. Kyle, don't say that," she said, and despite her intrinsic cheerfulness her pale eyes glistened with repressed tears. "You're the only one who ever . . ."
"Who ever what?" he asked in confusion.
"You're the only person who has ever treated me . . . I mean, look at me, doctor. What do you see?"
"Hmm? What? I'm not sure I know what you mean. You're a graduate biochemist, with a honors degree from a good school. You're careful and methodical, and very dependable, and . . ."
"And . . ?" she prompted.
"Well, you're an attractive young woman, of course. Healthy and, well, attractive."
"Thank you, Dr. Kyle, and you don't know how much I appreciate your attitude."
"Oh, Dr. Kyle, you are such a dear," the young blonde said gently. "Most people, particularly most men, only see my body and my hair and, well, mostly I get condescension - or lust - when I'm not being ignored completely. You've always treated me with real respect, so don't apologize for anything."
At her praise, one might have expected the scientist to preen just a little, or perhaps be embarrassed. Instead, her comment reminded him that he had not really given her the respect she proclaimed. He had, after all, kept the most basic goal of his research secret. And that reminded him that he had more work to do on that objective as well. Still, he couldn't just step on her revelation.
"Thank you, Madison. I'm afraid I've too often seen scientific qualifications to the exclusion of all else, but I can certainly appreciate how others might be so . . ," and an unaccustomed grin tugged at the corners of his thin lips, " . . so distracted by the package that they lose sight of the contents."
At this, they both blushed, and found reasons to look around the room for a moment. Poking idly at the information spread over his desk, Kyle resumed the earlier topic. "Let's gather up our data, like we discussed. For the next few days, we can just hide everything. But your concern is valid, and we'll have to set up some sort of false trail."
"Yes, sir, Dr. Kyle," the curvy blonde said - pert once again - as she turned to her own work.
"Madison," she interrupted her with yet another unusual smile, "perhaps, if we're going to be conspirators together, you could call me Jeremy, or actually, I prefer Jere."
"Thank you, Doct . . . I mean, Jere."
Her bright smile made him wish he had offered that familiarity much sooner in their relationship. Yet the smile hid a deeper wonder in his assistant.
*Goodness, he really did get some sort of personality makeover,* she mused, then giggled to herself. *Or perhaps, a personality implant, to fill a void.*
Little did she know that the doctor was himself going through a chain of introspective thought. *Now, why did I say that? I've always felt that it was very important to maintain a professional relationship with coworkers. Yet, somehow it just seemed right to make that small gesture.*
He shrugged and turned to his own work, passing it off as just another aspect of the strange situation that had arisen from the board's attempt to misuse his data.
The secretive nature of Kyle's research reinforced his own preference to work privately, with only Madison as an assistant. They took advantage of that isolation over the next few days to hide essential portions of their data. In addition, Kyle dutifully prepared orders for additional equipment and 'supplies' that would be required for the attempt to create a gene-modified, fertilizable egg.
However, both their newly formed conspiracy and Kyle's continued hidden agenda caused tension to grow between them. As the week progressed, they became increasingly polite to each other. Too polite: brittle and uncomfortable.
In some ways, Madison felt, it was worse than before Dr. Kyle's improvement seminar. Before, he was so oblivious to social niceties that they were simply not relevant. There was no potential for insult because it was inconceivable that Dr. Kyle had intended any. Now, too often after the fact, he realized when he had been rude, and felt a need to apologize for it. Over and over.
Finally, she took the initiative to work through the issue. "Dr. Kyle," she began, then smiled in embarrassment and continued, "I mean, Jere, you don't have to worry about my feelings when you're, um, focused on your work. You've always been that way, and I don't really mind."
"Maybe you need to get out more," she offered with a smile. "There's a concert this weekend at RSU, just a free battle-of-the-bands sort of thing in the quad. Would you like to go?"
"No," he replied bluntly.
"Oh, sorry for asking," she said, her bright eyes dimming with hurt.
"Look, Madison, it's just that . . . I've got things to do this weekend."
That didn't help much.
He tried again, but with yet another apology, "I'm sorry, Madison. But . . ."
*I can't tell her about my experiment. What excuse do I have?*
After a moment, he realized there really wasn't anything he could claim, but even he could see a way to be kinder. "Look, I'll tell you what. I'm not promising, but I'll try. When is this concert?"
The way joy overwhelmed the hurt in her eyes made Kyle feel even worse about his brusque dismissal.
"It'll actually last all day, from noon anyway," she explained. "Anytime you'd like to go will be fine."
"Now, Madison, I'm not even sure I can make it. What time will you be there?"
"Oh, I'll be there from about noon, I suppose."
"Fine. If, um, if I don't make it by, say, 2:00, then I probably won't make it at all."
"Okay, Jere. I'll look for you. Maybe a bit toward the west side of the quad?"
"If I can," he agreed.
21 April, 7:00 PM
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research Log
Private Journal: J. Kyle, Ph.D.
Clearly, a different experimental approach is called for. The only valid data I obtained were an approximate timeline, confirming my original hypothesis, and the apparent memory loss. However, that contributes to the problem. I must stay awake while the virus is spreading through my system this time, yet I cannot wait until Saturday morning to start or I won't have recovered by Monday. Accordingly, I have already injected the modified viral agent and will remain awake throughout the night. I've pulled 'all-nighters' often enough to demonstrate that this is feasible, yet I've also recognized that my clarity of thought suffers when I get too tired.
Nonetheless, I will have to remain awake at least until the effects become clear. I am unwilling to contaminate the experiment with any chemical stimulants, even one as mild as caffeine, so fatigue will present a potential risk.
In addition, I have a voice recorder and will make verbal notes on any observations. Finally, I have prepared injections of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to address this issue of apparent consumption of all available RNA in my system. It remains possible that my memory will be impeded, but remaining awake and focusing on preparing a verbal record should provide sufficient warning of memory degradation. If so, I will re-inject myself with the materials needed to synthesize more RNA.
It has also become necessary to consider alternate safety procedures. Previously, I left an electronic mail message for Madison Bailey, my very able and under-appreciated assistant. In the event I did not cancel the message, she would have been alerted to the potential problem. However, we can no longer allow our results or any significant experimental progress to reside in open consortium computers. It may become necessary to take Madison more fully into my confidence. That can wait for at least one more test though, since my recovery was demonstrated by the first experiment. I will have no external backup for this test, however. That risk has become necessary due to the consortium's avarice. Even this record now resides only on my laptop, and in encrypted disk copies which I will keep in my residence. It is most distressing to think that my results may be lost to science, but the alternative is too terrible to allow.
*You're stupid!* Madison thought to herself - for the hundredth time. Or at least a dozen times. She looked once again through the crowd at the concert, trying to find her mentor and, perhaps, friend. *You should have known he wouldn't come. Why did you even ask him?*
He had seemed so lonely, and he had been . . . special, somehow. Someone you wanted to know, and to spend time with. *He must have gone to one of those makeover seminars,* she insisted to herself. *Probably he was just too embarrassed to admit it, but the change was just so obvious.*
*Stupid!!* she berated herself again. *Of course he couldn't come to the concert. He's probably attending another session of that seminar. Even he could see the change in his personality over the course of the week. I shouldn't have pushed him to come.*
Her secret self-flagellation was interrupted by a voice carrying through the crowd murmuring as they waited for the next band to set up.
"No, thank you. I'm already meeting someone!"
The voice was sharp, bordering on angry. Yet it had a strange quality to it. The timber was feminine, yet deep - not so much in tone, which was a simple, mid-range alto - but with a sort of throaty, rumbling, near-echo resonance that would have been a purr in something about the size of a cougar. She certainly wasn't purring though.
If Madison had heard a real cat making that sound, she'd have looked for something solid to hide behind. Turning around to see the source of the voice, she saw a slender woman surrounded by a crowd of grinning college guys. They didn't share the woman's anger, nor seem to fear it. In fact, they were amused and teasing.
"But darrrlinn," one drawled smugly. "Anyone who would let you come to a place like this alone musta known you'd find new, ah, friends."
Another suitor chimed in, "And we can be real friendly."
"I'm sure you could," the woman replied, the ends of her dark, chin-length hair flipping in a sharp negation that eliminated any hint of offer in her words.
From behind, the woman's figure was nothing special, nothing to make the men so insistent on gaining her attention. She was slim almost to the point of boyishness, dressed in the virtually mandatory co-ed uniform of slightly too tight running shorts and definitely too tight crop top, much like Madison herself was wearing - well, Madison's top was not quite that tight, though it had a bit more to cover. Quite a bit, actually. And yet, the dark-haired woman was remarkable despite the ordinary clothes and figure . . .
There was something about the way she stood that made her seem poised like a mountain lion as well. It wasn't an artificially hipshot, arched-back model pose. But it was intensely alive, intensely vibrant even at rest. In Madison's mind, the unknown woman seemed to be everything that the blonde was not - and wanted so desperately to be. The other woman was sensuous rather than kid-sister cute, and something about the voice made it clear the brunette would never be condescendingly dismissed as Madison herself so often was. She felt a pull toward the woman that was so compelling she didn't even realize there was a decision involved. She just found herself on her feet and moving to interpose herself between the brunette and her 'admirers.'
Standing, she walked over to the woman and said, "Oh, good, you finally got here."
Then Madison got her first look at the threatened woman's face.
It took her breath away.
The dark-haired woman's features were pretty in a fairly typical way, and yet . . . amazing. Something about her face, the tilt of her brows, the curve of her lips, was so 'magnetic' it gave new evidence for the old cliche. She had a long, graceful neck leading to a chin that was just a bit too strong, perhaps, with a nose just a bit too narrow. Nothing about the basic shape of her face seemed unusual, yet it captured Madison's eyes with irresistible power. Perhaps that was it: the eyes. The brunette's eyes truly were spectacular - blue and gray, but not blue-gray. The colors transitioned from a medium gray to a darker blue in a complicated pattern that never seemed to have any in-between shades, just gray and deep blue. There was something deeper and mysterious in those eyes as well. A secret pearl of great price, if only the woman would share it. Then Madison realized it wasn't just the woman's eyes that were captivating.
Madison found herself unable to fight an irresistible urge to look at the bounty displayed by the woman's scooped neckline. Even as her eyes dropped, Madison's cheeks flamed with embarrassment at being caught up in that cliche, too. She also felt a rush of heat in other, less-expected places as well. It was profoundly disturbing, because Madison had never felt that way before. Not in just an instant. Not even about a man and most certainly never about a woman.
Madison was saved from further embarrassment by a drawl from behind her, "Well, darlin,' if you're the one she's been looking for, we're all gettin' lucky tonight."
"You wish," Madison snorted, turning to face him.
The would-be suitor towered over the girl, but he didn't seem to intimidate her in the least. "My friend and I are perfectly happy together," she declared, and fought down another blush at the implications embedded in her words. She recovered her composure as best she could and said, "Go find someone else to bother."
Not for the first time, Madison wished her features had more elegance - and strength - and less cuteness. It was clear that the guy was discounting the firmness she tried to put into her tone. She knew her wide blue eyes and flippy blonde ponytail didn't help, nor did her relatively diminutive stature. *Here we go again,* she thought.
A hand on her shoulder almost triggered an attack, but the slender fingers were from the woman behind her. "Don't, um, you don't need to be part of this, M . . uh . . ."
"I suppose you're right," Madison agreed, not looking back. "But life would be so . . . limited if all we did was what we needed to do. Sometimes, one must go beyond that, don't you think?"
The man Madison was confronting was frowning at the blonde's lack of gratifying fear, and his irritation was reinforced by the snide comments from his companions, all of whom were clearly expecting him to show the blonde her place. His glance flickered back at them for just an instant, then he put a not-very-friendly smile on his face and leaned down to Madison's level.
"C'mon, darlin,' we're just havin' a little fun. And you're welcome to join us." He reached out to put his arm around her shoulders, but a quiet, calm warning stopped him before he completed the gesture.
"Touch me, or my friend, and I'll break your arm."
Madison's comment was soft enough that his friends might not have heard. It was on offer of a way out.
But it was too late. And it was hard to believe the petite, bright-eyed blonde could back up her threat anyway.
The man's arm descended on Madison's shoulders in an overly familiar way.
"Ow!" he yelled, and his arm dropped away lifelessly. With his other hand, he reached up to knead a spot near his shoulder - a spot her stiffened fingers had jabbed sharply.
"What did you do to my arm?" the man asked, more confused than angry - even a bit frightened when he realized his arm was numb from the shoulder down.
"I warned you," Madison replied, backing up a step or two, and reaching for the brunette to make sure she followed.
"You bitch," the man snarled, and balled up the fist on his still moving hand.
One of his buddies reached out for the angry man's shoulder - the good one - and pulled him back. "Hell, Tony, let them go. They're probably lezbos anyway."
"I don't care what plumbing they prefer, only what plumbing they have," Tony snarled.
"Let it be," one of the other guys said. "C'mon, we can find other girls . . . ones more appreciative of what we have to offer."
Tony scowled at the retreating women, but he allowed himself to be led away. Not all the men were so willing to give up on their pursuit of the amazingly attractive woman, but something in the combination of the combative blonde and the disdainful brunette seemed to defuse the situation, at least among enough of the would-be suitors that the remainder decided not to chance their luck.
When it was clear the threat was gone, Madison turned to her unknown companion.
"Did you really break his arm?" the brunette asked.
Madison was again captivated by the woman's eyes, and her lips, and her . . .well, her expression. It took real concentration on her part to respond to the woman's words, and not just to fall into never-before-felt fantasies.
With a shiver, she shook herself free of the thrall of those deep, mysterious eyes and added a shake of her head. "No, I just tapped a nerve nexus. His arm will come back in a few minutes. It does buzz for a while, though. Like the worst case of pins-and-needles you can imagine."
"I'm grateful for the help," the woman said, pushing a strand of midnight silk from her face, then catching a lock to look at it with a strange expression. "I'm, um, Jere..yl. Cheryl K . . Kendall." She coughed delicately and added, "Sorry, something caught in my throat. Let me try that again. I'm Cheryl Kendall."
"Madison Bailey. Were you really meeting someone?"
"I guess so," the woman, Cheryl, said with a smile - a smile that caused Madison's heart to stop, and cheeks to glow. Again. It had other effects as well. Again. Ones Madison was still not ready to contemplate.
"Pleased to meet you," Cheryl continued, making the point clearer, as if that were necessary.
"Um, sure, pleased to meet you, too." stammered Madison, then she grinned shyly, hoping her blush would fade but knowing it was probably getting worse. "You know, this sounds really corny, but I just feel like we've met somewhere before. But I don't remember that name . . ."
"Sorry. It's the one I come with," the woman claimed, but for some reason she didn't look directly at Madison when she said it.
Madison tried one more time. "But it's more than that. Something about your face, except . . ."
Then she blushed. Again. "I'm sorry, that really doesn't matter, does it? I am pleased to meet you, too. Truly."
"Where did you learn to do that karate thing?" Cheryl asked, changing the subject to offer her new friend an easy way out of the awkward topic.
"It's actually aikido," Madison explained. "I had an over-protective father, and four brothers to practice on."
Cheryl laughed a delightful little laugh at the image spawned by Madison's claim. It was not an affected titter or giggle, just a warm release of genuine happiness. "Remind me never to make you mad at me," she said lightly, then made an offer that Madison found she very much wanted to accept. "Why don't you go pick out a piece of grass for us to sit on? I'll bring some sodas as a reward for my champion."
*Champion? Oh my God, she's, like grateful, and wants to get to know me better, and . . . Oh my God.*
The young blonde felt she was really out of her depth with that self-assured, captivating woman, but she still couldn't tear her eyes away as the woman walked to a concession stand.
When Cheryl returned, she gracefully lowered herself to Madison's seated level and offered her a can of diet soda.
When Cheryl returned . . . she offered a can of diet soda.
"How did you know this is what I drink?" Madison asked.
"It's what you always . . . I mean, it's what you young college girls always drink, isn't it?" the brunette asked.
Madison laughed, and nodded then affected a drawl of her own. "Pardon me all to h. . . um, pardon me, ma'am, but you don't look all that old yourself. When did you graduate?"
Cheryl just shrugged. "A few years ago."
In truth, Madison would have been hard pressed to guess the other woman's age. She could have been anywhere between 18 and, well, perhaps her mid thirties. Cheryl's face and figure argued for a younger age, but something about those eyes . . . those eyes had more experience than any teenager Madison had ever met. And yet, the seemingly sophisticated brunette hadn't been able to handle a bunch of semi-drunken college boys.
"What brings you back to campus?" Madison asked, returning from her private analysis.
"Oh, I heard about the concert from someone, and thought I'd check it out," Cheryl answered.
"Well, you look like you fit right in," Madison said, then decided to push on the apparent contradiction. "But I would have thought you'd know how to, um, resist the advances of a few drunken frat boys."
Cheryl looked uncomfortable for a moment, not quite blushing but clearly searching for words and in the search revealing she was hiding something. "I've, ah, changed a bit lately. I wasn't always very, um, attractive."
"Yeah, right," Madison said, not quite laughing in the stunning brunette's face at the incredible claim. "You had to have been born beautiful, and then just keep getting better."
That brought a blush to both the young women's faces. Madison's cheeks flared with the realization that she'd just paid a more than polite compliment - one that showed a more than simple interest in the way the other woman looked. And Cheryl's suddenly hot complexion revealed that she had recognized Madison's underlying meaning, and valued it.
Cheryl tried to cover her own embarrassment by turning the tables. "Hah, you're one to talk, with those baby-blue eyes and sun-gold hair. I'll bet you've had men you never met walking up and proposing marriage."
"Marriage wasn't quite what they were proposing," Madison returned hotly, the grinned. "Okay, so men do seem to be attracted to the way I look . . ."
Her words trailed off into another frown, as she remembered how disappointed she had always been that men couldn't seem to 'see' past her appearance. At least, most men.
As though the brunette had been reading the blonde's mind, Cheryl mused, "Most men get so distracted by the package, that they lose sight of the contents."
"Exactly!" Madison replied, her excitement causing her to slip back into speech patterns she normally avoided. "Like, my ears are not in my boobs, you know? That's not where guys should be, like, looking when they talk to you."
"Indeed?" Cheryl asked with a smirky little smile.
Madison's cheeks fired up again at the reminder of her early . . . interest. But she was rescued from this particular bout of embarrassment by the most unlikely of champions - another not-quite-drunk young man.
"Hey, ladies, don't you know it's against the bylaws of this university for pretty co-eds to be unescorted? Why, you never know what sort of low-life might try and, um, press his, ah, intentions on her."
He might - almost - have been forgiven for the fact his eyes were locked on the bounty spilling from Cheryl's top, and filling Madison's. After all, he was standing above them looking down. But the unconscious flicker of his tongue over his lips belied any honorable intentions.
The blue and blue-gray eyes of the two young women locked in silent communication, then both started laughing with more full-bodied merriment, much too robust to be confused with a dainty feminine giggle of invitation. After a moment, Madison managed to gasp out enough words to confuse the young man, but also make it clear they were not interested. "It's a good thing we're not co-eds then, isn't it?"
Cheryl smiled at her new friend, then frowned as she looked around and realized their latest admirer was only the first of another wave. She sighed and stood up. "I think I'd better go."
Madison scrambled to her feet as well, wishing once again she had the brunette's poise and grace. "I never did, um, . . . like, are you staying around here somewhere?"
"Yes," Cheryl replied, but then she shook her head in another silent communication. Madison realized the other woman as not offering further contact, and found herself disappointed in a way that she couldn't explain - not based on a mere half-hour of casual conversation.
She couldn't just let it go. "So, could we, like, meet for coffee or something?"
"Perhaps," Cheryl offered a minimal opening. "I'll probably see you around somewhere."
"Uh, sure," replied the disappointed blonde. She suddenly had a new insight into the sad looks so many young men had given to her when their approaches went unrewarded. It was an insight she could have done without.
Chapter 4 - "Transfer"
Dr. Kyle was uncharacteristically late to work on Monday morning. Madison Bailey was already in place and busily purging research data, while carefully ignoring equipment that had arrived to support the hated designer embryo research. Her ostentatious focus on the data didn't keep her from looking up as the doctor entered, though.
"Hello, Dr. Kyle . . . . oh my god!"
Her surprise was at the continued improvement in the slender scientist's appearance. His formerly stiff hair had a new bouncy wave, a lock of which curled fetchingly toward one eye. His face glowed with warm health in place of the pallor she had expected. And most of all, his jerky, poorly-designed-robot motions where smooth and graceful. Even his slacks seemed to fit better, hinting at actual flesh beneath their contours rather than his prior skeletal boniness.
"Don't start with me, Madison," Kyle warned, but a smile undermined his attempted warning. "I had to go get a haircut this morning, and I'm already late."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Kyle, but you look, um, very good this morning."
"Thank you, Madison," he replied graciously, then a twinkle lit his shining eyes. "But Jere will do fine."
Madison smiled back and felt a blush light her cheeks. Despite her desire to maintain a professional relationship, the gentle warmth in the doctor's smile, coupled with the improvements in his appearance, led to reactions she had never felt before toward her mentor - though she had certainly felt them before. Remembering that strange woman and the even stranger effect she had had on Madison, the young scientist frowned and turned back to her computer.
Kyle, for once not oblivious to his partner's moods, asked, "Is something wrong, Madison?"
"No, not really," Madison said, but her tone denied her words. Instead of taking those words at face value, Kyle leaned against the desk and looked down at her. He didn't say anything, but his manner showed both patience and determination.
The young blonde looked up at him and said, "I just, um, met someone at the concert this weekend."
"Good for you," Kyle said cheerfully.
"Yes, well, maybe," responded Madison, the frown drowning her usual pertness.
"That's, ah, not entirely clear," the doctor replied.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to, um, talk about it," Madison said quietly.
Dr. Kyle quickly stood up and started to move away, saying "Sorry to pry."
"Oh, no, Doc . . I mean, Jere. It's not you. I appreciate the interest. I just don't know quite what to think about what, um, happened. Let alone talk about it."
"Oh, well, if you decide you want a listener, I'll be here."
"That's very kind of you, um, Jere."
He just nodded, and moved to his own work station.
24 April, 10:00 PM
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research Log
Private Journal: J. Kyle, Ph.D.
Results of my alternate experimental method are mixed, at best. My verbal notes run out early Saturday morning, and once again the remainder of the weekend is missing from my memory. Or at least, mostly missing. I seem to have a few unintegrated memories - flashes of images mostly - that might have come from the time I was under the influence of the modified virus. They certainly do not correspond with events I remember directly.
This note will be organized into three sections. The first details my observations, including recorded observations, during the time before my notes and my conscious memories end. The second section will deal with aftereffects observed when I recovered this morning. These two reports contain data and represent scientific evidence. The third section of this journal entry will deal with my flashes of apparent memory. These amount to little more than speculation, yet they should be preserved.
As reported in my prior entry, I injected myself with the modified virus at 7:00pm on Friday evening. The expected flush of fever became noticeable at 10:00pm. My verbal record does not indicate any other symptoms or effects until an entry at 2:00am. It is interesting that I don't remember making that entry, nor several prior ones which recorded no change. There is an entry on the tape every half hour from 8:00pm through 2:00am, but I have no conscious memory of any made after midnight. Obviously, I did not fall asleep immediately after my last remembered entry. There is one last verbal entry at 3:30am that is reasonably crisp and clear, not the muddled murmur of someone on the brink of falling asleep. Therefore, I must conclude that I continued to be conscious for at least some amount of time after my entries end.
The actual data of interest are then primarily from the 2:00am entry and the 3:30am entry.
At 2:00am, the tape records a reduction in the fever, plus an observation of a sensation of itching. It was apparently concentrated in my scalp, but there were lesser sensations in chest and in my genital area. I might have attributed this to a reaction with hair, though my chest was never particularly hirsute. In addition, as noted in a prior journal entry, my body hair disappeared after the first test. (As a side note, in the week since the first test, I have developed a stubble of hair on my legs and armpits, though nothing noticeable on either my chest or my face.)
The 2:00am observation records that the fever was essentially gone. My hair was apparently growing noticeably, though only the hair on my head. It was also noted that my hair was thicker, with more body and a darker color than prior to the injection of the virus. At least in this, my purpose was achieved.
The 3:30am record little further useful data, beyond the bare fact of its existence at all. The report seems uncharacteristically light in tone, as though I were cheerful and quite energetic for such a late hour. The report is very brief. It notes that my clothes seemed uncomfortable and that I was going to go take a bath and change clothes. As it is my habit to shower rather than bathe, this is anomalous. The lightness remains in the voice, which has a much more mellifluous tone than I would expect. In this my purpose was also achieved. Perhaps too much so, as the voice - it is difficult to consider it my own - seems almost to be singing as the tape ends.
My next conscious memories are of waking this morning at approximately 6:15am, again with no particular issues with dehydration or bodily functions. Even before I reviewed the taped record, I noticed that my hair was significantly longer, having grown perhaps 6 inches from prior to injection of the virus. In addition, it was very dark, very thick, and what can only be described as 'bouncy.'
I carefully examined myself in the mirror, and other than noting that again my legs and underarms were smooth and free of stubble, there were no obvious changes. Or perhaps it would be better to say that there were no changes that were easily described. Despite the difficulty in capturing hard scientific data, for the first time I felt that my experiments were having real success. The person I observed in the mirror was much more attractive than I had considered myself to be, though no single feature was so different as to be a clear cause for that opinion. At the least, my appearance was of someone much healthier than I had been. My face had better color, with detailed aspects that could have been the sort of improvements caused by ordinary cosmetics, though I quickly confirmed that there was no chemical enhancement to my features. For example, there was a ruddiness to my cheeks that might have been blusher, while my eyelashes were considerably longer and fuller than I had expected. My lips also appeared to be fuller, and darker than they had been.
The sum of these and other minor effects presented a sense that I was 'glowing with health.' This effect was not limited to my face, for my legs and arms - and for some reason, the upper part of my chest - seemed to have acquired a suntan.
In addition to the coloration changes, I could see a general smoothing of my whole body. Bony joints seemed to be better integrated, with less angularity and with a suppleness that indicated more elasticity than my skin had previously possessed. I quickly weighed myself, thinking that perhaps the apparent gain in flesh would be confirmed by a corresponding gain in weight, but found my weight actually less than it had been, though by a small amount.
Another immediately observable anomaly was in my fingernails, which were - like my hair - significantly longer than they had been before I began this test.
I showered as usual, then found other differences as I dressed. My slacks - the same style and size as I had been wearing for the last several years - no longer fit well. They were unusually tight through the seat and crotch, yet I found I needed to tighten my belt by a notch for it to fulfill any useful function, and could have pulled it in a second notch without discomfort. The pant leg length was also inappropriate, being at least an inch too short though a quick check demonstrated no change in overall stature.
A different set of anomalies was noted in my shirt. Again, I had worn the same size and style for several years, yet the shirt seemed too be too large. Certainly the collar was inappropriately large and would have bunched up under my necktie if I had not pulled it up only to cover the front button rather than snugly. Similarly, the sleeves seemed too long, and the chest area was too full. It was as though I had shrunk at least one shirt size (more than that in the neck itself), which would seem to explain why my legs were thicker - and apparently longer - without any overall weight increase.
I will save one final observation for the conclusions section of this journal entry, as it follows from and supports the idea that I had in fact been conscious and active during the gap in my memory.
Unintegrated visual images:
I seldom remember dreams, though like all people I'm sure I do dream regularly. The flashes of memory that might have come after my continuing memory was lost were like and unlike memories of dreams. There were no surreal, impossible elements that dreams often contain and the images are photographically sharp as though from real life events, yet on another level they were impossible because they could never have happened.
One image was of looking in a mirror, from a very short distance, and applying mascara to my lashes. I had certainly never done this, so where did the image come from?
In another image, I saw Madison Bailey, dressed in a very flattering top and tight little shorts. That memory - and the emotions that surrounded it - was quite inappropriate for professional colleagues even as a dream fantasy. And she seemed to be reaching out to me, as though I were offering her something.
I have a distinct flash of image that could have been from some time in my own past. I am mundanely paying a department store clerk for some purchase - yet the purchase seems to be lingerie. At least, the store background in the half-remembered image shows lingerie. That has never happened in real life.
As a scientist, I should never jump to conclusions, but there seem to be three main hypotheses for these memories. One is that they are the result of some hallucinogenic effect of either the DNA itself or the virus that carries it. Certainly my career has caused me to study clothes, makeup, and other techniques that are used to enhance attractiveness. Perhaps my subconscious mind is trying to understand those techniques in a more visceral way than just as analytical data.
The second hypothesis is that my experiment succeeds and I become more attractive in various ways. During the time of significant effect, I function normally, but simply have no long-term memory of the period. This offers no explanation for the images I seem to remember. However, these may indeed be merely dream images which are essentially unrelated to whatever really happened during the time of my memory gap.
However, I am becoming increasingly inclined to believe that the third main hypothesis might be the most likely explanation. It would seem that I am entering some sort of fugue state when under the influence of the virus and "X" factor DNA. In this state, a new, secondary personality seems to be in control.
And this new personality is female.
There is a data point that supports this conclusion even without the evidence of the fragmented memories. On awaking this morning, I found that my ears had been pierced. I would never do this in my own personality.
Clearly there cannot be any actual change in sexual characteristics. The DNA sequence is not from the X chromosome. While it appears that many chromosomes contribute to sexual characteristics, the triggers must be located on the X and/or Y chromosomes. Without those triggers, the characteristics controlled by the other chromosomes will either not be differentiated by sex (e.g. liver functions) or vestigial in the non-triggered gender.
And so, while the postulated alternate personality is female, that personality will still be limited by my physical characteristics. Marginal improvements such as thicker hair and more mellifluous voice tones are possible and are, in fact, the objective of my research. But changes in gross sexual characteristics are not possible. My body will still be basically male. Yet the evidence from this morning suggests that - while under the influence of the virus - at least in some aspects I have dressed or acted as a female. In short, a cross-dresser or transvestite.
The idea of being a transvestite while under the influence of the virus is very disconcerting. Regardless of makeup, clothing, whatever, I would be a most unattractive woman - probably unconvincing as well and so quite pathetic. In fact, given current social attitudes toward cross-dressed men, it might even be dangerous.
I must admit to sharing at least a portion of that attitude. While I would never consider any sort of attack on someone afflicted with that sort of compulsion, I do find it . . . disgusting. The idea of a man prancing around in ridiculous heels, slathered with poorly applied makeup . . . it's just repugnant to me.
And my physical characteristics, while not rampantly male in terms of stature or musculature, are even less attractive than an average man. My research has been focused on 'fixing' my own ugliness - my bony angularity, my lack of gracefulness and poise, my atonal voice. It is a virtual certainty that I - regardless of the personality driving my body - would be desperately unattractive when dressed as a woman even with improvements in each of these areas, and more.
The logical, scientific conclusion is to abandon these tests until the personality disorder is understood and corrected. However . . .
There are clearly residual characteristics which carry over even after the virus is eliminated. My hair is distinctly thicker, fuller, and more lively. My skin tone and color are better. My joints are improved, both internally with greater balance and grace, and externally with less angularity. My voice is much more pleasant in tone - even from the inside. These successes are the fulfillment of an adult lifetime of research, and an even longer lifetime of desperate wishes. I cannot turn my back on this opportunity just as it comes within reach.
Any further journal entry was interrupted by Madison's voice, laden with confusion rather than her usual pert brightness.
"Jere, have you changed your mind about experimenting on human embryos?" she asked.
"What? No, of course not!"
"Then, would you mind explaining this order? It's dated even before the board meeting."
He looked at the record on her screen, and a flush filled his newly smooth cheeks. The order she was reviewing was for the Strain 91-A virus samples. That information was not supposed to have appeared on any other computer but his own, and even then only behind an encryption lock.
"Where did you find that?" he asked sharply.
"Dr. Kyle," replied Madison formally, showing an equal acerbity, "it doesn't really matter where I found the data. What matters is what you're doing with the virus. Are you preparing to experiment on embryos?"
"No," he repeated. He couldn't meet her direct gaze, and she used that obvious weakness to push further.
"Dr. Kyle," she said again, strongly. "If you don't tell me what this is all about, I'll have to do something. I don't know what, but I won't let you experiment on babies any more than I would let the board of directors."
"I told you I'm not experimenting," he insisted. Then he blurted, "Not on babies, anyway."
All of the sudden the light went on behind Madison's eyes, and she exclaimed, "You're doing it to yourself, aren't you?"
Kyle flinched even as he recognized any denial would be foolish. He had no convincing alternative explanation, and his demeanor had given him away as soon as she brought it up.
And then there were the other changes.
Madison's bright eyes grew even larger as she considered the changes in her mentor. "Oh my God, it really works! You're . . . I mean . . . it made you . . ."
"It doesn't work as well as I had hoped," he sighed. Rather than explain further, he pointed at his still-open journal file and waved his arm in a silent offer.
Madison's sweet face would never allow her to play serious poker. The emotions she felt as she read of his determination, and of his lost days, and of his current conclusions played across her expression in succession, allowing Kyle to follow her progress without looking at the screen itself. When she finally sat back, she sighed with such intense sadness it nearly brought tears to her mentor's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Madison. I should have told you from the beginning. And there's absolutely no excuse for holding back once you made it clear you were willing to sacrifice your career to protect my discovery. Our discovery."
"That's okay, Jere," she replied softly - even tenderly. "I never knew you were so unhappy. I've always respected you as a scientist, but I didn't see you as a real person, with real feelings and needs, y'know?"
"I haven't been an easy person to work with," he said. "And I never made it clear how much I appreciate your, um, patience."
She shrugged, then smiled gently. "So, what do we do now?"
"I don't really know. The psychological effects are completely unexpected. I promise you I've never had transvestite tendencies in my life."
"At least," he continued, "not until now."
"I have a, um, suggestion," she offered. "That is, if you intend to do this again."
At his nod for her to proceed, she said, "You need an observer."
"I can't ask you to do that," he replied. "It's bad enough that you're helping me to hide data, but there's at least a chance I could explain that away. There's no way you could come to my home and still maintain you didn't know we were doing anything, um, unprofessional."
"Jere, we've already had this discussion, and you know where I stand," she said firmly.
Then her normal bright enthusiasm replaced her atypical solemnity. "Besides, you found out how to make this work on adults! This will be the discovery of the century. It is so totally awesome you'd, like, have a hard time keeping me out of it, now."
The chime of an incoming e-mail message drew their attention to another topic. The consortium board of directors was having a special meeting that week, with the sole topic being Dr. Kyle's progress toward the designer baby experiments. Of course, the wording of the memo was more subtle than that, merely mentioning his promising findings, and inquiring into the progress in setting up the new equipment they had provided. But it was clear nonetheless.
That sent Kyle and Madison into a flurry of activity, all of it in violation of their sense of propriety as scientists - except when serving a higher responsibility. They falsified some data and hid other results. They broke equipment and filled out forms declaring it to have been broken when they opened it.
Dr. Kyle was smart enough not to sabotage all of the equipment. In fact, before the board meeting he had organized the majority of the materials required to start the experimentation on human embryos. However, the 'broken' components were critical enough that he could excuse not taking the next steps, at least for now. And of course, the board was never going to see the data on his real progress.
So the board meeting, while not the tour de force of his prior presentation - or at least, not engendering the rampant enthusiasm within the board members triggered by his prior briefing - nonetheless placated the board. For a while.
That "while" included another weekend, and yet another secret trial. Not quite as secret as before, however. Dr. Kyle did not hide his work to modify yet another batch of the carrier virus.
As Friday afternoon approached, Madison said pensively, "Jere, I have another suggestion."
"Yes?" he inquired politely.
Despite her own initiation of the conversation, the young woman hesitated, and then stammered. "Well, um, what would you say if I suggested, um . . ?"
At one time, Dr. Kyle's impatience would have demonstrated itself with an abrupt demand for Madison to get to the point. Now, he merely waited with an elevated eyebrow.
She tried again, "Well, Dr. Kyle . . ." Then it all came out in a rush, "Why don't you let me take the potion instead of you?"
"You?! Why in God's name would you want to take an attractiveness-enhancing potion? You're already beautiful."
"Thank you, um, Jere," she replied, the obligatory blush coloring her cheeks with a resurrected 'cuteness' that had been seen all too seldom of late. "But that's only, like, part of the, um, problem. I mean, like you said, not all the women we've checked have been particularly 'beautiful' in any objective sense of, well, bust size and so on. But they've all been, like, special. Y'know?"
She concluded with a sigh. "And I'm not."
Then, before Kyle could respond with further affirmations of her attractiveness, she added another point. "Besides, if there is some sort of sex-lined effect, then it won't be a problem for me."
"It might be," Kyle replied. "We don't have any idea why these other effects are happening, but they're not connected to the Y chromosome, so you're vulnerable, too."
"How?" she demanded. "All the samples have been from women of, um, celebrated attractiveness. How can this be a bad thing for me?"
"I don't know, and that's the point," he said. "I won't have you taking a risk like that. And that's final."
Madison's fine features twisted into a frown that had no trace of fetching 'pout.' But she didn't argue. Instead she sighed once again and asked, "So what is your plan for tonight, then?"
Dr. Kyle looked at his somber assistant, his own newly-smooth features twisted into a similar frown. Then he shook himself and visibly changed his demeanor, not into a scientists professional mask, but into the warm grin of a friend.
"How about if I take you out to dinner?"
His smile grew broader as he repeated, "Let me take you out to dinner. We know the timeline reasonably well from the last experiment. If I inject myself with the modified virus at, say, 4:00, then I shouldn't have more than a slight fever until about 10:00. That would give us time to get something to eat."
He stood and twirled imaginary mustaches. "Then, my little fly, if you would consent to come into my parlor. Why, we'd see what the night might bring."
Madison jumped to her own feet and found herself hugging the slender scientist. "Oh, Jere, so you are going to let me participate?"
"Of course," he answered. "Your arguments were valid - at least, those dealing with having an independent observer."
A sudden frown marred Madison's features, but it had a very different tone from before. "Oh, my, I can't go out to dinner looking like this."
"Why not?" Kyle asked. "You look very nice."
She blushed, but shook her head. "I can do better than jeans and a lab coat," she insisted.
"Very well," Kyle replied indulgently. "Take off as soon as you want. We'll meet at, say, 7:00. What are you hungry for?"
"Oh, anything," she declared lightly. "You pick something."
"We need to decide where we'll meet," he reminded her.
"Oh, sure," she said, but she shrugged with indecision.
"Very well," Kyle repeated himself. "How about, oh, Hofbrau House, on the way to the airport?"
"That would be fine," she agreed. "But, um, what do I need to do to help you before I go?"
"Nothing, really," he answered. "I've already done this part of the experiment several times. And I want to make some entries in my journal. You run along and I'll see you at - what did we say? - 7:00."
"Thanks, Jere. I'll be there," she said happily as she slipped out of her lab coat and grabbed her purse.
28 April, 4:00 PM
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research Log
(Truly) Private Journal: J. Kyle, Ph.D.
(Not to be shared with Madison)
I have finally brought Madison Bailey into my confidence on the deeper reasons for this research. It is more clear than ever that I have underestimated her and not given her the proper respect. She was quite sympathetic to my reasons for what is - at base - simple vanity. She has also volunteered, in fact insisted, to participate more fully in the unauthorized experiments I have been conducting, guaranteeing the ruin of her career if we are discovered.
Yet I find that I would not dissuade her if I could. She is very creative, yet disciplined, and has been a great help in both the research and in the cover-up of our research to hide it from the consortium directors.
I am beginning to realize that there is more to my desire to work with her than simply . . . to work with her. In fact, with only the flimsiest of excuses, I have invited her out to dinner this evening. While not 'officially' a date, it's the next best thing. And it is to be followed by her returning with me to my home. It absolutely surprises me to say this - even to myself, in this private journal - but I find that I am considering it unfortunate that I have another experiment to conduct tonight. Despite the impending realization of the ambition of a lifetime, I am torn because a part of me would rather spend the time getting to know Madison better than in conducting an experiment that seems like it will be, at best, humiliating when my transvestite persona emerges.
Still, I am first and foremost a scientist. As is Madison, for all that she is also a beautiful young woman. I'm sure she could never really be satisfied with someone as unattractive as I am. So in the end, my best hope of becoming worthy of her is if my potion succeeds. Perhaps she will be able to overlook the interim perversion if the end result is that I become a desirable man. That is my fond hope, at least.
28 April, 4:00 PM
Enhanced Attractiveness Genome Research Log
Private Journal: J. Kyle, Ph.D.
I have injected myself with the same potion as I used last week. However, two factors make this not a mere repeat of the prior experiment. In the first place, there does seem to be some carryover effect, and it also appears to be cumulative. The evidence of my hair alone would demonstrate this improvement, but my voice and my - for lack of a less-egotistical term - gracefulness are both improved as well. If the accumulation of beneficial effects continues, the interim blackout sessions - despite the apparently perverse nature of some of the activities during these periods - may be acceptable.
The second key difference is that I will have an independent observer this time. Madison Bailey will now be fully part of these experiments. Hopefully, she will be able to help control whatever mental aberration takes over while the virus is running its course. I don't expect her to physically restrain the alternate personality that seems to take over my body, but none of the fragmented memories that occasionally return to me indicate a violent nature. Madison should be safe, and perhaps whatever arguments she makes will be effective as well. It is even possible that her continued interaction with me as I am will help keep the alternate persona submerged.
Based on the last experiment, the timeline is that I can expect a mild fever begining approximately 7:00pm with secondary effects such as rapid hair growth commencing well before midnight when both Madison and I should be acceptably alert. There should be several additional hours before the alternate persona becomes dominant.
Chapter 5 - "Transform"
Madison had surprised herself with an unexpected combination of anticipation and anxiety at the prospect of having dinner with Dr. Kyle. She had always respected him as a dedicated scientist, as a hard-working teacher, and as, well, as someone who respected her in turn and for more than just her bra size. But she had never thought of him as a person before. As a man, to be specific.
The scientist in her was wondering how much of the attraction she felt toward Jere was because of the potion he had concocted. But the woman in her didn't care as much for the 'why' as the 'what,' and the 'what' was that he had boyish good looks with his dark, wavy hair and his amazing little smile - a smile that was both intimate and polite, inviting and still . . . well, respectful. It was a most compelling combination. And despite her intellectual recognition of the need to be professional with her mentor, she could recognize a very unprofessional flutter in her tummy every time he sent that smile her way.
Only one other person had ever had that effect on her. And deep in her heart of hearts, where she dare not really look, Madison wondered if she were clutching at Jere's attention as a way to deny that the memory of the way the woman at the concert had affected her. She'd only met Cheryl Kendall once, and for a short while at that. But the memory of the dark-haired woman both thrilled and frightened her, in a strange parody of the way she felt about Dr. Kyle.
*After just about giving up on ever meeting someone whom I could respect - and yet who could send delicious little shivers up my spine - I meet two people like that in one week. And one of them is a woman,* she sighed to herself.
*Denial - that's that river in Egypt, right?* she thought, laughing at her own conflict. *In college, if someone had 'confessed' an attraction to someone of the same sex, I'd have been all correctly open-minded about it. Hell, I've even known same-sex couples and while I don't remember anyone actually asking my opinion, I'm sure I treated them 'correctly,' just like my other friends. It's different when it's me that's feeling that attraction.*
*And waaay different when I feel the same way about a man. At the same time.*
She sighed again, then wondered if her choice of clothes were over-compensation for that same sort of denial. The soft white tennis sweater she wore might claim to be demure, but it had a very deep 'V' neck and showed a lot more cleavage than she'd ever shown Jere before. And her tight blue skirt was way too short for work. She compromised with her conscience by wearing simple suntan pantyhose and nearly flat white sandals instead of something more ostentatiously glamorous.
She did take more than usual care with her makeup, though that was excusable for an evening out. As she brushed out her ponytail and settled her blonde locks about her shoulders, another giggle trickled out of her smiling lips.
*And here all along I was thinking Jere was just interested in brunettes, since all the DNA samples were from brunettes. I never guessed he was just looking for data applicable to himself!*
With an obligatory final check in the mirror, and a shocked final glance at the clock, she danced lightly out to her 3 year old Civic and sped off to the appointed rendezvous.
When she got to the restaurant, she found Jere already waiting. Once upon a time that might have been a problem - not that meeting the old Jeremy Kyle in a restaurant would ever have happened, once upon a time. But instead of being irritated and impatient, he was frankly appreciative of her appearance. An appreciation that was shown first by another of his smiles. A pretty good one, actually, which made her feel a lot better about her choice in clothes. He looked at her frankly and openly, but he didn't linger on any particular, ahem, features before his eyes raised once again to meet hers.
"Goodness, Madison, would you feel less, ah, 'respected' if I say you look fabulous?"
"Not at all, Jere," she said, blushing cutely. *Damn,* she thought to herself with a silent sigh, *I've got to get that too-cute thing under control. Somehow. I don't want him thinking of me as a 'cute' little girl.*
And then it didn't seem like such a bad thing, when Jere smiled again. He obviously noticed her blush, but granted her the courtesy of ignoring it even as he courteously held her chair for her.
His expression was less delighted when he sat facing her, for all that he seemed to have a flush of his own.
"Is something wrong, Jere?" she asked.
"No, not really," he claimed. "I think the expected fever has arrived. I just felt a chill, and a bit of a headache."
"We don't have to eat," she offered. "We could just go to your place, and, um. . . ."
Her voice trailed off into another fiery blush, which did at least have the effect of resurrecting Jere's smile.
"I'd make some leering comment about an opening like that," he said wryly, "except anyone who knows you would also know you weren't really, ah, making an offer like that."
For some reason, she felt a bit of irritation at his, what? Confidence in her . . . innocence? "I'm not a shy little school girl any more, Dr. Kyle."
"Of course, and you'll have to forgive me again if this seems, um, forward but I find it very hard to think of you as any of little, shy, or school girl in that outfit. It, ah, flatters you very nicely."
"Goodness, Jere," she said, deliberately parodying his earlier comment, "a girl might think you were, like, coming on to her with a comment like that."
"Is that what you think?" he asked, shining the power of his smile on her again.
His reward was another blush, and an unaffectedly demure lowering of her eyes. When she looked up again, wondering if he were going to continue the flirtation they had found themselves in, she found instead another frown.
"We should go," she offered again.
"No," he said firmly, resurrecting a smile, though a more artificial version. "Let's eat first."
In what was obviously a deliberate decision, he changed the subject from his own situation to find out more about Madison. "So, tell me about this concert I missed. And the person I missed that threw you into such a tizzy."
Madison took the coward's way out and focused on the first part of his request, blandly ignoring the part she didn't know how to answer, even to herself. They passed the meal in light and amicable conversation, Jere still gently teasing, and smiling, and in both endeavors keeping the color high in Madison's cheeks. But he managed to hide any discomfort of his own until they were ready to leave.
"If you don't mind, Madison," he asked as they reached the parking lot, "I'd appreciate it if you would drive. I'm not sure I should, right now."
"Oh, Jere, what's wrong?"
"Despite the lack of any notes to this effect in my last experiment record, I'm feeling a bit dizzy. Perhaps it's just that your company has that effect on me."
He smiled again, genuine humor masking some - but not all, to Madison's sharp observation - of the too-bright shine in his eyes.
"Of course," she said, moving to her car. "Or, did you want me to drive your car, and leave mine here?"
"No, not unless you want to drive mine," he said. "It's just a four-year-old Camry, but it gets me around."
Madison laughed and shook her head, then pointed at her own, barely newer car.
When they arrived at Kyle's little bungalow, she found the compulsive neatness she had come to expect from her mentor. It would take something ('A woman's touch,' Madison laughed to herself.) to make it anything like cozy, but it was compactly efficient, notable only that the expected television/sound system was decidedly not state-of-the-art.
Her quiet inspection of the house distracted her enough that she didn't notice a problem until it literally reached out and grabbed her.
"Sorry, Mad," Kyle said, clutching at her shoulder, "but I feel quite weak, and even more dizzy."
"Lie down over here," she ordered, leading him to a couch. "Do you need a drink of water or something?"
"No, thank you," he replied. Once he was settled on the couch, he sighed. "Actually, I wonder if you might get a glass of wine. For both of us, of course. I've got a Reisling cooling in the refrigerator, I think."
She nodded and moved to prepare their drinks. When she returned, Kyle was asleep. Placing her own wine on a handy table, she took off her sandals and got comfortable in an easy chair. Her PDA had a record function so she took it out of her purse, put it on the table as well, and began her observations.
Madison began her observations.
"Time: 9:00PM. Dr. Kyle has reported dizziness and weakness, neither of which were part of his prior record. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but he has just now fallen asleep and this time - five hours after the injection - corresponds to the end of his conscious memories from the prior experiment. Perhaps he fell asleep before as well, and woke up after a short nap to make another report, not realizing - or at least, not recording - that he had fallen asleep.
*Frankly, I don't consider this likely,* Madison continued to herself. *Jere is a very meticulous observer, and if either the weakness/dizziness symptom, or falling asleep, had happened the last time, he would have noted it. But there is clearly a cumulative effect - or after-effect - from the first times he used the potion. It looks like there is some sort of cumulative effect during the active period of the virus as well.*
She sipped at her wine and looked at her mentor and friend. His face was softer in sleep than she had seen before. The better, healthier look he had shown during the past week was still apparent, but more than that there was a sense of peace as he lay there.
For a while - about a half hour - Madison was content just to observe the slim scientist as he lay on the couch. A scientist must be a patient observer, and this was not the first occasion when Madison had been required to 'watch for a pot to boil' with no apparent progress. However, she was just about to admit she needed some help, perhaps by turning on the TV or something, when Kyle stirred and opened his eyes.
"Hmm, I seem to have dozed off," he admitted.
"I wonder if you dozed off last time as well," Madison said.
Kyle just shrugged, then stretched in a languid, sensual way that said he appreciated his nap a lot more than Madison appreciated her forced alertness. At an uncontrollable yawn from Madison, he realized that distinction, then turned his smile on Madison with a mischievous flavor that claimed to be apologetic, but showed too much enjoyment for any real remorse.
"Maybe you should take a nap now," he offered. "I feel fine, awake and alert. I can make my own record for a while."
"Thanks, Jere, but I think I can stay awake for a while more."
She picked up her PDA and asked, "Are there any other sensations or observations you want to record?"
"Not really . . . . well, actually there are a couple now that I think of it. I think the fever is broken. My headache is gone, and I certainly don't feel a chill any more. If anything, I'm feeling rather hot. Do you think it's hot in here?"
"Not really," she said.
"Well, I'm certainly warm," he affirmed, "and, um, itchy. If you'll forgive me for being such a bad host, I think I'll go take a shower and change clothes."
As he left the room, he called back, "Feel free to turn on the TV, or get yourself some more wine. Mi casa es su casa, as they say."
Madison did stand up to walk around, mostly to keep herself alert. She was perusing the books on Kyle's shelves, noting quite a few that she knew were on her own shelves as well, when Kyle returned.
He was dressed in a t-shirt and running shorts - that outfit reminded her of something, but the rest of the memory was just out of reach. Looking around for the wine, he smiled that complex little smile again and poured a fresh glass. Taking a sip, he looked at his protege and asked, "How about you, Mad? Do you notice anything different about me?"
She looked carefully for a moment, then said, "It looks like your hair may have started an accelerated growth spurt."
Kyle tugged at a lock that now curled over his collar. "Yes, I've noticed that as well. I do think things are a bit ahead of schedule this time."
Madison concurred. "We should have taken measurements before this treatment."
"Indeed. I have a baseline of weight and so on, but I should have thought to record a few of the things that I knew would change. Oh, well, I'm sure there will be other observations where a baseline would have been valuable. So many, in fact, that we couldn't practically have known what to record."
Madison just nodded, then walked over closer to him. "Your hair isn't quite visibly growing. I mean, I can't see the ends, like, move or anything. But I'm sure it's longer than it was. Does it feel any different?"
"Just a bit of itching," Kyle replied, reaching up to his scalp, but turning what was obviously going to be a harsh scratching into a rueful rub instead. "I did record that last time, and I'm not really looking forward to another bout. I've always found itching to be very irritating."
"I know what you mean," Madison agreed. "Anything else?"
"Well, I'm still feeling rather hot," Kyle reported. "I hope you don't mind my casual attire."
"No, not at all," she said quickly, then paused, regarding him expectantly. After a moment, when he seemed to have nothing further to say, she asked diffidently, "Dr. Kyle, did you, um, while you were changing, I mean, did you . . . shave your legs?"
His brow furrowed in what was going to be an automatic denial, but he looked down at his bare legs and realized they were, in fact, freshly smooth and sleek with the new healthy curves that had softened his lifelong angularity. "I do not remember doing that," he whispered.
"So, um, what do you remember doing?" she prompted.
"Oh, just the usual things. I went to the bathroom and took a shower, brushed my teeth, and so on. I'm not sure I was sweating during my prior nap, but I felt hot, and had a sort of rashy, itchy feeling that made a shower seem like a good idea."
He looked down again, and ran a hand along his supple leg. "Apparently, I did a bit more than I had intended."
Madison smiled at him and said, "Well, I think it looks very nice. I wish more men would, um, take the time to be, like, . . . tidy like that."
"Thank you, Mad, but despite your very generous attempt to make it seem insignificant, you know as well as I do that this is an anomaly."
She nodded, but smiled again, "How about if we compromise and call it another 'improvement?'"
Kyle smiled as well, but shook his head. Nonetheless, he did not argue, turning instead to his now-warm wine and taking a sip. "That tastes good. I think I'm a bit dehydrated from my fever."
"In that case," Madison said, "you need something without alcohol in it."
"You're right, of course," he agreed, but he sat down on the couch and took another sip, idly scratching. "But it's not that bad - just enough to make me appreciate the flavor of the wine even more."
He took another sip, then found his jaw nearly cracking in a huge, uncontrollable yawn. "My, but I still seem to be a bit tired, despite my nap."
Madison had to reach over quickly and catch his wineglass as he slumped against the couch. She picked his legs up and pulled his slim body into a position that had at least the potential of being comfortable, then returned to her own chair and PDA.
"Time: Approaching 10:00pm. Neither the dizziness nor these bouts of irresistible sleep were reported in Dr. Kyle's journal of previous experiments. In addition, there is at least one example of behavior he does not remember, confirming the hypothesis that he had, in fact, done atypical things during his previous bouts with the virus rather than just failing to remember unremarkable behavior."
"On the positive side, he has developed physical traits that are in line with his desires for self-improvement. Objectively, the accelerated hair growth is not inherently desirable, but his hair is obviously thicker and more vibrant than previously which are certainly improvements. In addition, his skin seems much smoother and more supple, with added color indicating better circulation. This is apparent in his face as well, where his normally parched, tight skin shows softer contours. As a specific example, his lips seem fuller and a bit darker, as though blood circulation were improved. These are improvements even since the last experiment, or at least improvements over the residual effect he showed on the Monday after his last experiment."
"It should be noted that the itching he has reported seems to be quite localized. I noticed him tug at the shorts he currently wears while squirming a bit against his seat. He has also scratched lightly at his chest on multiple occasions. Other than those localized areas - plus a surprisingly appreciative touch at his legs, almost a caress, really to confirm that they were freshly shaved - he has not seemed to have any unusual skin sensations."
Seeing her mentor sleeping so deeply had a compelling effect on Madison's own alertness. She turned on the TV, finding the expected blandness and noting in amusement that Dr. Kyle had only the most basic channels. Finally, she found an old comedy that had no pretensions of deep commentary on the human condition and so actually had a chance to be amusing. Glancing at her still-slumbering mentor she turned her attention to the show.
Madison was a good scientist and didn't let herself become lost in the show, at least at first. She noted in her PDA record that Dr. Kyle's hair continued to grow with unnatural rapidity, though this was not unexpected. She noted also that the contours of his face, and of his previously knobby joints also smoothed and looked sleeker, but this, too, was at least predictable if not entirely expected.
Other changes were more subtle; in fact, so subtle that she did not notice them with only uncalibrated observations. Unbeknownst to her, Dr. Kyle's body proportions were changing. The scientist's legs were becoming longer, though without notable change in overall stature (hard to determine in any event with the subject lying on the couch). The doctor's shoulders were narrowing slightly, with an equally subtle restructuring of pelvic bones.
However, none of these were dramatic enough to capture Madison's attention. In fact, the share of her attention focused on her mentor and experimental subject gradually diminished as she became more engrossed in the light-hearted comedy on the screen. It is to her credit that she never fell asleep despite the example so temptingly embraced by Dr. Kyle. She did, however, miss the more dramatic changes that started a bit after midnight.
It was a sound that pulled her attention away from the screen. The sound was a soft, yet clear-toned moan that Madison thought at first was a sign of distress. She looked quickly at the doctor to find the figure on the couch writhing in slow, sensual waves that arched up until only shoulders and toes touched the couch, then relaxed with a twisting shimmy before rising again.
It only took one cycle for Madison to realize that the doctor's record of changes during the prior experiments was very, very incomplete. For the person on the couch had an undeniable - even by Madison's standards - and very feminine bosom. And while Madison had tried hard not to notice the bulge in Dr. Kyle's shorts when he had returned from his shower, the now much tighter shorts worn by the figure on the couch showed a contour with which she was quite intimately familiar.
"Oh my God! Dr. Kyle! What happened?"
The sound of her voice interrupted the sensual writhing she observed as the character woke abruptly. For just a second, the person seemed dazed and disoriented. But only for a second. In another moment long, sleek legs swung gracefully to the floor and Cheryl Kendal rose from the couch.
Chapter 6 - "Personality Life"
"You've changed!" Madison gasped in surprise.
The figure confronting Madison was undeniably the Cheryl Kendall the young blonde had met at the concert, yet it was not the same Cheryl Kendall. This woman was much more . . . womanly than the trim, athletic person with the almost boyish figure she had defended from the drunken college boys. "Boyish" had no place in her current description. This woman had lush curves even Madison found enviable - no larger in bust, but with a sharply defined little waist above a strikingly feminine swell to hips that were still not by any means oversized.
*I may look like that in a few years, when I've really grown up,* Madison mused to herself - focusing on the details as way to avoid dealing with the overwhelming miracle before her.
This Cheryl Kendall also had longer hair than the first one she had met - much longer. It draped down over her improved bosom, a fact called to Madison's attention when the brunette tossed the thick waves back over her shoulders.
"You think?" Cheryl asked wryly. She moved her hand sensually down her ripe curves and laughed. "I don't suppose you expected this."
Madison numbly shook her head, prompting another gentle laugh from the dark-haired woman before her.
"Why don't we sit down and talk about it?" suggested Cheryl. "Oh, and would you like another glass of wine?"
"Um . . . yeah, if, um, if you want," stammered Madison.
Cheryl moved to the kitchen with confident strides, yet with a sensual grace the moved Madison perilously close to the jealous range. While the younger girl was justly proud of her figure, she learned by immediate demonstration that there was more to attractiveness than a set of measurements.
"Damn," Madison groaned internally. "Those feelings I had Saturday were no fluke."
It wasn't like she could deny them. Her own nipples were popped up so hard she could barely stand the feel of her silky bra, and her panties were . . . well, they were not serving much useful purpose.
"And all she's done is say hello," the blonde sighed.
Cheryl's own clothes were not helping - at least, not if the intended service were modesty. When she returned, her own feminine charms were prominent and proud. They drew Madison's eyes, prompting yet another laugh from Cheryl, perhaps more of a giggle.
"Oh, Madison, I expected at least you would be able to talk to my eyes."
"What, um, oh . . . . sorry."
Cheryl placed a arm gently around the younger girl's shoulders and urged her to a seat on the couch. "It's okay. It's, um, flattering really. I guess I'm not yet, um, tired of the attention."
"Are you really Dr. Kyle?"
"Yes, Madison, absolutely," Cheryl answered. "All of his memories, all of his skills, all of his . . . desires are still here."
"But . . ," prompted Madison.
"Well, there are a few, um, extras now," Cheryl observed wryly.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Madison asked plaintively.
"Well, at the concert, I wasn't quite sure how to tell you," Cheryl explained. "I mean, in the middle of that crowd and all. Later, well, later I was Jere, and while I remember all that he did, he didn't remember all that I did."
Madison's eyes widened and she asked, "What did you do?"
"Relax, Mad, it wasn't anything special. Those, ah, glimpses of memory that Jere recorded in the journal were about the extent of it. I went shopping, and to the concert, and, well, a few things like that. I only had two days."
"Why didn't you, like, leave a note or something?"
Cheryl sighed and looked away. "I thought about it. I fell asleep during the transition, like I did this time, but I kept recording my observations when I was awake. You saw how it went - little things, then all of the sudden. Um, not so little any more." She giggled as she cupped her definitely not-little assets.
Looking up at Madison again, she continued. "Then, well, you saw Cheryl before. Would you want to go back to being Jere?"
Madison didn't answer, at least not in words, but the frown on her face showed her thoughts.
"What, like I 'owe' him or something?" Cheryl asked sharply. "Madison, I am Jeremy Kyle. But I am more than Jere, too. Don't you think so?"
A blush gave another silent answer from Madison, but after a moment she said, "But I like Jere, um, too. I don't want to, like, lose him."
"I am him," Cheryl insisted. She shrugged and finished off her wine. "But he's not me. When I reverted, it felt like I was trapped in his body."
She stood and started to pace about the room, touching small mementoes and straightening up a little. After a moment she looked directly at Madison. "As Jere, I tried to keep you from taking part in this. I could, um, can influence him a little. It helped that the reasons he gave are valid. Hiding this from the consortium will kill your career. But I didn't want . . . I can't let you interfere."
"Interfere?" Madison asked cautiously.
"I want to live! insisted Cheryl.
Madison frowned, but she was unable to tear her eyes away from the dark-haired vision before her. "You've changed. I mean, even from the way you were last Saturday."
"I know," Cheryl said, accepting the change of subject. "My hair is longer. And heavy. How do you deal with it?"
"Mostly in a ponytail," Madison murmured, smiling but still too distracted for real humor. Then she observed softly, "That's not all that changed."
"I, um, noticed that, too," admitted Cheryl. "I was going to ask how you deal with them, too, but . . ."
Madison said, "Your shorts are also pretty tight."
"Yes," Cheryl said, sighing at the lack of emotion from her blonde colleague. Being a scientist was a good thing, but there were times when a bit of empathy wouldn't hurt. Nonetheless, Cheryl replied with a clinically sterile tone in her own voice. "I seem to have a more developed figure than last time."
"Why?" asked Madison, and despite her attempt at objectivity, she heard a tone of accusation in her own words.
Cheryl quit pretending to be a dispassionate scientist. She started to pace about the small room - a motion that still showed gliding sensuality despite the jagged emotional context. "Damnit, Madison, if I knew that do you think I'd have done all this in the first place? I don't want to, um, die is what comes to mind, if I revert to Jere and never come back, but Jere never wanted to be a woman. Let alone a woman with so much, um, well, you know. I mean, even long hair? How did that happen?"
"You're asking me?" Madison countered.
"Yes, Madison, I am asking you," Cheryl said sharply.
"I thought you had all of Jere's abilities?"
"I do," the brunette insisted. "But that's obviously not enough."
"It was enough to get you this far."
"Madison, are you going to help me, or snipe at me?" demanded Cheryl.
"I don't know," Madison replied. "I want Jere back. Are you willing to do what it takes?"
"No. Not if it means I . . . die. Are you willing to have me die to get Jere back?"
"You wouldn't die. You're Jere, remember?"
"But . . ." Cheryl interrupted herself, and sighed. She sat down on the easy chair Madison had earlier occupied, leaving Madison alone on the couch. For the first time, her grace seemed to desert her and there was almost an echo of Jere in her jerky, angular motion.
"I'm sorry, Madison. I just don't know . . . what to do." She buried her face in her hands and tucked her legs up into a defensive ball. "I just don't know . . ."
Madison saw a frightened woman in front of her. That the person was more than that, that the brunette sobbing into her hands had also taken over the life of a friend and colleague was suddenly less important than the real, human need she could not deny. The young blonde rose from her seat on the couch and put her arms around Cheryl's quaking shoulders. Those shoulders twitched at the touch, then the whole person became still.
"I'm sorry," Cheryl said softly, reaching up one hand to pat lightly on one of Madison's. "I don't know . . . why that happened."
"I expect it might have something to do with being a woman," Madison observed.
"But . . . why? I mean, why do I look like a woman? And why do I, y'know, act like one. I don't remember the last time Jere cried."
"Well, it's not all that uncommon for women," Madison said. "And you're definitely a woman now."
"Yes, but why? None of the changes had anything to do with the sex-linked chromosomes."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. Everything I did was to the sixth pair, like I told you."
Cheryl stood up abruptly and started to pace again. "The virus is quite efficient at making cells reproduce, and RNA is the messenger that actually makes things happen in cells, so rapid hair growth is not surprising. But why would sex-related changes occur, when the sex-linked chromosomes are not involved?"
Madison smiled as other woman began to show more and more of the Dr. Kyle she knew. If anyone could figure this out, it was Jeremy Kyle, and if the scientist had to wear an unusual shape while the problem was solved, that was less important than the fine and capable mind within that shape.
In fact, the release of tension when Cheryl transformed from huddled sobs to active analysis had a relaxing effect on Madison. So much so, that she found herself yawning hugely.
"Oh, sorry," she said.
"No, I should be the one to apologize," Cheryl countered. "I've been napping for the last several hours, and you've been patiently watching out for me. Why don't you lie down for a while?"
"You don't mind?" Madison asked, trying with limited success to stifle another yawn.
"Not at all, except . . ."
"Yes?" Madison prompted.
"Could I borrow your car for a while?"
"You're going out? Now?"
Cheryl grinned and cupped her enhanced feminine figure. "Well, the bras I got last week won't work very well with the new, um, 'girls,' will they?"
"Hardly," Madison said, smiling . . . and trying to hide the flush that she felt when the curvy dark-haired woman called attention to her jiggling bounty.
A few minutes later, Cheryl was frowning at the limited choices available in the lingerie section of her local 24/7 super-hyper-everything mart. Jere Kyle was a dedicated expert in all things related to feminine attractiveness, at least everything that resulted in potential advertising dollars for the consortium, and 'practical' or 'economical' were not attributes favored by high-end advertisers. So she didn't know much about the brands of lingerie available in the discount store.
She also didn't know her size.
*Actually,* she mused to herself. *Being a 'mayfly' with only 48 hours to live is kinda liberating. Nothing I do will really matter the day after tomorrow.*
With that fatalistic attitude firmly in her mind, she approached a sales clerk. "Excuse me."
The clerk, a woman of - to be charitable - middle age looked up brightly, then frowned at the virtually undressed woman before her. The too-tight t-shirt showed a shameless lack of support for orbs definitely in need of control. And those shorts. You could actually see . . . well, it was indiscreet even to notice, let alone to make such a display.
"Yes?" she said tersely.
The normally inept Jere Kyle would have floundered in the face of such disapproval, but the newly arrived Cheryl just leaned close to the older woman, noting the name 'Naomi' on her badge, and whispered. "Could you help me out, Naomi? The airlines ate my luggage, and I had to borrow these clothes from a friend when my real clothes - I don't normally dress this way, of course - got drenched in coffee. This, um, outfit is hardly proper, don't you think? I need something a bit more, um, polite."
The saleswoman's manner changed instantly from parental judgment to motherly sympathy. "Oh, you poor girl. I'm sure we can help you."
"Oh, thank you. You're a lifesaver."
Cheryl had no problem getting a new set of measurements from her new-found friend, explaining, "I don't usually buy this manufacturer's styles, would you mind . . ?" Even the gentle tut-tutting the older woman clucked when Cheryl insisted on snug jeans and a crop top was fondly amused rather than stern. Especially since the pretty young woman was now wearing a proper bra.
As Cheryl drove home, she tugged and twitched at the oh-so-proper bra. *As soon as the real stores open, I'm getting something better than this.*
She arrived at her - or Jere's, if the distinction mattered - small cottage to find a real-life sleeping beauty to awaken. But she didn't take advantage of her opportunity. At least, not immediately. She went into the bathroom and used Jere's skill at feminine attractiveness to groom her eyebrows, put on makeup, and insert some earrings into the holes that hadn't quite healed over from the prior weekend's activities. Then she returned to the living room.
Whispering, "Mayfly, mayfly, mayfly . .," to herself as she leaned over the pretty blonde girl.
And kissed her.
"Mmmm," Madison murmured as she responded to the intimacy. Her arms reached up to surround the neck of her dream Prince Charming.
To find a mass of hair on a princess instead.
Madison's eyes flew wide open and she jerked back from the hovering brunette. "Oh!"
"Sorry, Mad, but I just couldn't resist."
"Well, learn to resist," Madison snapped.
Cheryl smiled as she stepped back. "In 48 hours, you can take it up with Jere."
Madison's irritation was not resolved by Cheryl's bland statement - any more than it resolved the flash of arousal still showing through her tight sweater. "But you keep telling me that you are Jere."
"Yes," Cheryl agreed, "but Jere is not me. And now that you know my 'secret,' I expect I won't be around any more."
"But . . ."
"Oh, Madison, get real. First, are you going to tell Jere about me?"
"Well, yeah, but . . ."
Cheryl interrupted her again, "Second, do you really think that Jere will try another experiment, knowing what happens?"
That quieted Madison. "Oh."
"Yeah, 'oh.' So," Cheryl continued, "since I only have two days to live, I've decided I'm going to try things that I . . . well, to try things."
"Kissing you, for one," Cheryl said with a laugh. "Jere would have waited for a thousand years before telling you how beautiful you are. I don't have that luxury."
"Beautiful?" repeated Madison.
"Yes, beautiful," Cheryl confirmed. She arched an elegantly shaped eyebrow at the blonde girl in an obvious invitation.
Madison's blush showed she had received the invitation - and was interested - but she lowered her eyes. "I . . . can't."
Cheryl's smile remained on her full, dark lips, but her eyes showed the sadness that her mouth denied. She stood back and said, "Well, I'm up for a little breakfast. How about you?"
"Um, okay," Madison said, then looked down at her tiny skirt and snug sweater before looking at Cheryl's tight jeans and crop top. "Do you want me to change?"
"Not a bit," Cheryl replied airily. "After breakfast, I'm going shopping. And tonight . . ."
"What happens then," Madison asked cautiously.
"I'm going out. You wanna come along?"
"Does it matter?"
"Oh," Madison said softly, then she stood up from her reclining position on the couch - and reached to wrap her arms around Cheryl. Hugging her tightly, she said, "Yes, it does matter. But I'm sure we'll work something out."
When Cheryl tried to advance the hug into something a bit more, Madison pulled away. She smiled and said, "I'll go with you, Cheryl. But I'm not . . . it just won't . . . nothing more. Okay?"
"If you say so," Cheryl said, the smile never wavering but the pain showing in her eyes.
The tension in that moment didn't go away immediately, but the forced normalcy of getting breakfast in a local restaurant, then embarking on a day of power shopping turned their attention to other things. Especially when they found a store with a fabulous sale on party dresses. It said so, right over the door. They wasted no time in grabbing silky wisps of fabric and heading for the dressing rooms.
Madison screamed - not too loudly - when she saw Cheryl's first selection draped over her sensuous curves, "Ohmigod, are you gonna wear that?"
"Why not?" Cheryl asked blandly, stroking her hands sensually down the sleek, dark shape. "Every girl needs a little black dress. It's a fashion staple."
"But . . . well, you're gonna fall right out of that one if you take a deep breath!"
"Really," Cheryl asked - taking a very deep breath indeed. "Nope - at least, not quite. See?"
Madison didn't answer, at least, not directly. She gasped, and her cheeks lit like a stellar core, but she didn't say anything for a long moment. Then she asked, "Are you looking to get lai . . . um, get lucky tonight?"
It took the smirk out of Cheryl's eyes. "Oh, no. Not . . . I mean, I guess there's enough of Jere in my that guy's don't, um, y'know."
Cheryl sighed, and agreed. "Yeah, 'oh.' Forty hours to pumpkin time and I can't even decide if I want . . . with a guy, anyway. And I may never have another chance."
"Well, Cheryl, if you wear that dress, you'll certainly get at least one chance."
"I guess that means I'll get it," the dark-haired woman said.
Then she visibly forced herself to be cheerful, or at least act cheerful, by announcing, "Shoes!"
In the shoe store, Madison's comments at Cheryl's selection were more cautionary. "You can't be serious."
"You won't be able to walk in those, let alone wear them all evening."
"These are in line with current fashion," Cheryl countered.
Madison frowned for a moment, then leaned closer to whisper to Cheryl. "That's Jere talking. His knowledge is all academic, unless you're telling me that Jere has any actual experience with wearing shoes like that . . ?"
Cheryl laughed and said, "No. Jere was, um, is straight." Then she frowned and said, "Though as I understand it, many cross-dressers are actually straight. In any event, Jere never performed that kind of experiment."
"Right," Madison said. "If he had, he'd know that just because they look good on a runway model does not mean shoes like that are wearable by real people."
"But they're so cute!" Cheryl said, admiring her toes barely captured in the twisty straps of her towering sandals.
Madison giggled. "Yes, they are, but . . . well, I warned you!"
"Yes you did, Mad, and I'm sure I'll remember it."
Madison's giggle damped out into a pensive look. "Cheryl, just how much of this sort of thing did Jere do? I mean, you walk like Jessica Rabbit, even in those killer heels. And you do all sorts of things so naturally . . . I mean, my mother ranted at me forever to keep my knees together in a dress - since I almost always wore jeans growing up. And . . . well, you know. I can't imagine Jere saying that shoes were 'cute', and, like, I've seen you fix your makeup several times today, and do it perfectly every time. How did you learn all that?"
"That's a good question, Mad," Cheryl said. "If Jere had any, um, unusual urges, I can assure you that he - because he's me - never knew it. But I suppose there's always a question when a man makes a career out of studying fashion and style."
She twirled lightly in the stilettos and laughed. "Lord knows he was never graceful, though. So a lot of this must be coming from the potion."
"And other things, like makeup?"
Cheryl looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, "I suppose it must be a combination in some way. I certainly have better hand-eye coordination than Jere ever had, but he knows what's stylish and all. When I did my brows this morning I was using his knowledge of where to pluck, but my hands to do the plucking."
She giggled and said, "But I'll have to be careful about my knees when I'm wearing a dress."
Madison laughed again and said, "You'll have to be careful about a lot more than your knees in that little black number you picked out."
Cheryl snickered and nodded her head. That reminded her of another need. "Oh, I have to get my hair done. You wanna come?"
Madison shook her head, causing her own long tresses to dance with light. "No, thanks. I don't really have the time."
"Okay," Cheryl said. "Drop me off at my car and we'll meet up later."
Chapter 7 - "Duty Calls"
"Thirty-six hours to go," Cheryl said softly as she exited yet another shop. But the boots she had seen in one store window were just too perfect, and they were so comfortable. They had enough heel that she needed new jeans for the right length, though it tickled her sense of irony to realize that the new jeans covered up the very boots that had required them. And of course that required a new top, a great little red shell that hugged the curves that the latest dose of the potion had provided. The new outfit required new earrings, and she had just found some large hoops that completed the look.
*Maybe next time I'll get some straight-leg jeans and wear them inside the boots,* she thought to herself, showing on the outside a little half smile that would figure in the fantasies of surrounding men, and some women, for a long time to come.
Shopping, and the salon visit that had preceded the latest round, had been surprisingly enjoyable experiences. The much-longer hair that had resulted form the latest experiment with the potion was styled into something swingy and energetic, and Cheryl had decided to take advantage of the growth spurt in her nails to have them done as well. She looked distractingly attractive, and knew it . . . . and liked it.
But it wasn't enough. It wasn't satisfying, because - despite her claim to be all that Kyle had been - she knew she was in some strange way an interloper in her own body. Cheryl thought about her day's purchases, including that gorgeous black dress, and sighed again.
Finding a place to sit for a minute, she took out her . . . um, Jere's cell phone.
"Mad?" she asked in a moment. "What are you doing tonight?"
Madison's voice had an apologetic tone, but it was firm. "Look, um, Cheryl, I don't think, um, I guess I'm not comfortable with the idea of, y'know, going out with you tonight."
"It wasn't going to be a date, Maddy, just a . . . girls' night out."
"I know, but . . . I guess I'm still thinking of Jere, and the idea that you might . . . while he's not . . . um . . . in control."
"Yeah, I know," Cheryl replied. "And you're right. Anyway, that's not what I had in mind. I mean, it is what I had in mind earlier, but I've been thinking about what you said, and, um, well, it wouldn't be right."
"Oh," Madison said, relief obvious in her voice.
"Yeah," Cheryl repeated wryly. "You're a good influence on me, girl, and right now I need it."
"Oh, um, good."
Cheryl's voice became more brisk. "Anyway, I'm figuring I have about a day and a half until, um, y'know, so I thought maybe we should try to get into the lab and work on this problem a little."
"Work on it?"
"Yes. It's obvious that Jere was on the wrong trail. I mean, that as Jere, I was on the wrong trail. Maybe there's something that I can see that he won't remember to try after . . . uh, after. Anyway, could you help me this evening?"
Cheryl sighed, and said, "Yeah, well, mayflies don't have much choice."
"Oh, um, sure. When?"
The impossibly pretty brunette looked around and carefully avoided eye contact with the crowd that had formed around her. "I'm still at the mall. Or again, in any event. But I can meet you at the lab. I have my badge, so if you can help me get past the manned security station, I can still get into the lab itself. Then I'd really appreciate your help, but it is Saturday night. If you have any other plans . . ."
"No,' Madison replied quickly. "I'll be glad to help."
Their evening rendezvous was at a different place and with a different purpose than Cheryl had originally planned. When she saw Madison pull into the lot at the Consortium's facility, she still felt a pulse of desire as she saw the young blonde's long legs extend from her car. *It's probably a good thing that Madison doesn't feel the same way,* Cheryl thought sadly. *That would have been a complication we didn't really need.*
When her young laboratory assistant arrived at the entrance to the facility, Cheryl noticed that Madison's cheeks were flushed. "You didn't need to run," the brunette said with a giggle. "I'm not *that* short on time."
Madison didn't reply, she just ducked her head and let her silky hair flow past her hot cheeks. She wasn't about to tell the person who was supposed to be her mentor and her supervisor that the heat in her cheeks, and in other places as well, had a different cause than exercise. *She doesn't need that complication right now,* Madison thought to herself. *And I will not let her down by losing my professionalism.*
The dozing guard's thoughts as the two beautiful women entered the lobby of the research building would have been obvious with less clue than the surreptitious licking of suddenly dry lips. He quickly stashed the magazine that he had been "reading" (for the articles . . . really!) and took advantage of his long-practiced excuse for staring. He was, after all, merely studying the badges that hung so conveniently between the much-more-interesting swells of glorious feminine bounty. (He actually did read books - even ones without airbrushed photos, sometimes - and no one at work had to know he favored the sorts of stories that talked about "glorious feminine bounty" instead of good old-fashioned "tits.") Somehow, despite the fierce intensity of his inspection, he never noticed that Cheryl's badge was turned around the wrong way so that neither the photo nor the name showed.
It didn't really matter. His job was actually to make sure that no one physically forced their way past the badge readers. If the computer were happy with their identity, who was he to complain? The younger blonde's rack looked familiar anyway, so she must have been in before. But that brunette! If he had ever seen her in his entire life, he'd have remembered. Wait till he told his buddies on the day shift!
The computer did not protest either. The badge Cheryl offered, along with the personal PIN code, were perfectly satisfactory. A placid little beep announced that the door had released, and the two women passed into the "secure" area of the facility.
"You didn't need me after all," Madison observed dryly.
"I've always needed you," Cheryl countered in an offhanded matter that tried to deny the deeper truth in her reflexive statement, "but the guard certainly wasn't paying attention."
Madison laughed and disagreed. "Oh, he was paying attention all right."
Cheryl frowned for a heartbeat, then laughed as well. "Okay, point taken."
"I love that outfit," Madison observed as they walked along. "You've been busy."
"Yeah," Cheryl replied, smoothing appreciative hands down well-displayed curves. "I saw the boots, and, well, you know . . ."
"Oh, yeah," Madison giggled. "Me and my bank account know all about that sort of thing."
Cheryl laughed and said, "Remind me on Monday - that is, remind Jere - that he needs to give you a raise."
"Oh, sure, he'll go for that," said Madison. "Besides, we're both going to get fired anyway."
"Um, yeah," Cheryl said, the light-hearted tone banished from her voice. "I'm sorry . . ."
"Don't be," Madison interrupted. "I agreed to this even before I found out about the real progress you've made, including the ability to, um, improve adults. There's no way I'd let the Consortium have that potion now."
Cheryl just nodded, and then used her badge to get into their private laboratory.
She looked around for a moment, as though seeing it for the first time. Then she pointed her toe and looked down at her new boot. "Y'know . . .I think I've been looking at this the wrong way. It's almost as though there truly is a 'shopping' gene or something. Something about men being hunters and women being gatherers. I really enjoyed spending the day looking for clothes, and felt a real thrill when I saw these boots. I wonder . . ."
Cheryl automatically slipped on a pair of surgical gloves, then moved to her work station and rapidly began to call up files. Her newly manicured nails had no apparent adverse effect - the gracefulness that had accompanied her changes cancelling out the impediment of their length.
Cheryl . . . moved to her work station.
"Run that 6th-chromosome sequence that we discovered against my X chromosome, Madison," she ordered. "Perhaps it has activated something that was dormant. I'll look for any correspondences between my X chromosome and those from the women who provided samples."
The melodious tones of Cheryl's rich voice bore little resemblance to Dr. Kyle's groaning squawks. And the poised, confident flow as she moved to her work station had none of the jerky unevenness of his habitual motion. Yet for the first time since Madison had watched the unbelievable transformation of graceless male scientist into charismatic female beauty, pertness returned to the blonde's own motions. This was the Dr. Kyle she remembered. Brusque, perhaps, and not particularly polite, but focused, intense, and above all, creative. This Dr. Kyle, regardless of the guise he - or she - wore, would figure out what had happened. It lightened Madison's spirits and gave her some hope that her mentor and friend was actually still alive within the all-too-desirable woman before her. She moved quickly to her own work station and started on her assigned task.
Unfortunately, her confidence seemed to be misplaced. Hours later - long after the somnolent guard had bragged to his replacement on the incredibly hot women who had brightened his evening - they still had not found any linkage between the sex-linked chromosomes and the gene sequence that had triggered the fantastic changes in Dr. Kyle.
"Damn, why in the world are these other changes occurring?" Cheryl growled.
Madison offered a halting suggestion. "Dr. Kyle, maybe we should . . . um . . . maybe we need, like . . . another test subject - a genetically female test subject - for a comparison?"
"I already told you I'm not risking you until we find out what's going on," Cheryl replied sharply.
"But, what if that's the only way, like, to find out what's going on?"
"Not until we have some reason to believe it's safe," Cheryl said.
If she expected her adamant refusal to dampen Madison's spirits, she should have chosen her words more carefully.
*That means after she thinks it's safe, she might let me try the potion!* Madison exulted internally.
Despite the excitement she felt about a potential chance to try out the miraculous formula, Madison couldn't contain a yawn that threatened to crack her jaw.
Cheryl saw it, and was instantly contrite. "Oh, Mad, I'm sorry. I've kept you up all night."
"S'okay," the sleepy blonde replied. "This is important."
"No," Cheryl countered grumpily. "It could have been important, but it's actually been pretty useless."
Madison tried - with limited success - to stifle another yawn before she said, "Wasn't it Edison who said - after almost a thousand failed attempts at an electric light bulb - that he now knew 900 things that didn't work?"
"That's not very comforting," Cheryl replied, but she smiled at her colleague's game attempt at humor. "Why don't you curl up somewhere for a nap?"
All of the sudden Cheryl's dark eyes widened and she snapped her fingers. "Curl up . . . that's it!"
Her fingers flew over her keyboard and then she gazed intently at a display on an analyzer. Madison had to listen carefully as Cheryl muttered through the chain of logic that was playing out before her eyes. "Yes. That's it. HHMI discovered that the Y chromosome is palindromic over large sequences. However, it turns out that the transformation sequence on the 6th chromosome pair is palindromic with a part of the X chromosome which corresponds with an apparently dysfunctional part of the Y chromosome."
She straightened up and reached out to hug Madison. "That's it! The sequence we discovered, if inverted and kinked just a bit - apparently a side effect of the virus replication - can actually overlay a part of the Y chromosome and make it into a sort of pseudo-X chromosome. In essence, the RNA produced by the virus acts like it's from an X chromosome instead of the 6th pair. That's why the female characteristics have appeared."
"That wouldn't make your hair grow so quickly," Madison observed.
"What? No, of course not. The virus I picked stimulates rapid cell growth. The donor women all have thick hair that they don't have any trouble growing long, so there must be some enabling element in the gene sequence. The same thing must explain . . ," Cheryl waved her hands over her shapely curves.
Despite her interest, Madison found herself unable to stifle yet another yawn. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Cheryl said. "It's been a long night, and I appreciate your help. But it's time for you to get some sleep."
"You, too," Madison said.
"Of course," Cheryl agreed, but the undertones in her voice were saying something else.
As they walked from the building, the new guard smiled at them in an invitation to talk. But they ignored his offer and walked straight toward the door. Their cars weren't parked far from the door - not surprising, since they had arrived late on a Saturday evening.
As they arrived at their cars, Madison asked, "So, after we both get a little sleep, what's next?"
Cheryl surprised her, and said, "Mad, I don't want you to see my, um, reverse transformation."
"Why not? It's an important part of the experiment."
"It's just . . . too much like . . . dying. I don't want anyone to see me . . . go away. Jere will be back in the morning."
"But . . ."
"No, Madison, please. I'll see you in the morning. By the time you catch up on your sleep, I may have . . . started, and I don't want anyone to see it."
*Especially not you,* Cheryl thought to herself. *I don't want you to see this beautiful body transform back into my ugly male body.*
I could have styled this as another set of research notes, but somehow that didn't seem appropriate. This won't be - I won't let it be - as impersonal as a laboratory record. If I did, I'd feel entirely too much like a laboratory specimen. There's a lot of that feeling already.
I guess I should introduce myself. I'm you, but I'm also brand new. I'm the result of your experiments, a new persona who has been alive and aware during the periods you don't remember. For reasons I don't need to go into, I've chosen the name Cheryl Kendall.
And yes, that's a woman's name. I'm a woman, Jere, right down to an irresistible urge to shop for clothes - wait till you see the bills!
And I'm beautiful! I'm sensual, and charismatic, and everything you'd hoped for in your experiments. Except for being a woman, of course. I know you thought you might have an alternate persona who was a - frankly pathetic - transvestite. But your experiment - our experiment - succeeded beyond your wildest dreams. Instead of the modest improvements in skin tone and voice tone and so on that you had hoped for, the potion results in a total transformation into a very attractive woman. Complete with amazingly stimulated hair growth . . . and amazing stimulation of other growth as well. Yes, as I write this, I have breasts . . . headlights . . . knockers . . . tits! Big'uns, too. The bras I had to buy are D cup, and the "girls" are snug.
And yes, I did check. They're incredibly sensitive, in a very, very pleasurable way. This body is unbelievably sensual.
Yes, I checked that, too. Everything works. Very, very well. It's a shame you won't remember it.
And no, I didn't have any help. I wish I'd had some.
You know, Jere, you're so damn smart you're stupid. (I know, that seems like a non sequitur, but it'll make sense in a minute.)
Madison is gorgeous, and she is, as the saying goes, "head-over-heels, prime time in love with you." You should be shot for being so blind to that opportunity.
I know it will be hard for you to believe as you read this note, but I really am an attractive woman. I saw that over and over again this weekend when I was at the mall. Every time I'd stop, a crowd would gather. Any time I caught someone's eye, even accidentally, they'd start moving toward me. I'll bet you that 99% of the human population - man or woman - would have responded to any hint of interest from me. And I made a full-up, kiss-her-till-her-toes-curled (and mine, too) pass at Madison.
But all she did was start talking about you. You're an idiot, generally, about women. We both know that. But you are too stupid to be let out without a keeper if you don't follow up with her now that I've told you about how she feels.
Oh, by the way, she never said it in so many words, and she might not even know it. But she does love you. Take my word for it. After all, it's your word, too.
Okay, back to the experiment. You'll find some detailed technical notes in the files marked with Saturday's date, but the summary is this: The gene sequences you found on the sixth chromosome act as a series of anchors that twist that chromosome into a new, higher-order helix where adjacent loops combine to mimic the X chromosome. The virus then triggers RNA strands that bridge the loops and end up looking like X chromosome RNA. The rapid cell growth that results is all female genetic information, and you end up with a woman's body.
It seems to be cumulative in some way. The first time, in some ways I ended up with what you intended. I was attractive in the ways you were looking for - skin tone and gracefulness and so on - but quite androgynous. I stayed in the house that entire weekend, trying to decide what to do. In the end, I decided to do nothing, not even leave you a note. In part, that's because I liked the changes but I wasn't sure you would. There are lots of ways to be . . . unattractive in our society. A man who looks like a girl, who tends to move like a girl, and whose genitalia look like they belong on an undeveloped boy, is not particularly desirable in our culture.
But it felt wonderful to be able to move with balance and fluidity. I liked having a voice that sounded melodious and sweet. I liked looking in the mirror and seeing large, bright eyes that were clear and beautiful.
I hated it when I started to revert that first Sunday night.
I also didn't leave a note because I figured you'd remember everything. I remember your whole life. After all, I am you.
Then, on Monday, you didn't remember any of it. So . . . there may be a side effect of the potion that is a real concern. It may trigger a split personality. When the potion had worn off and our body reverted, I was still here, but it was as though I were an observer in your body. I screamed and shouted to be let out, for you to hear me, but other than some very subtle influence, you didn't even know I existed.
Then you tried the potion again. This time, the feminization was much more pronounced. I ended up fully female, but with a slender, almost boyish figure. And the accelerated hair growth ended up being - well, you saw it since it stayed until Monday, barely chin length. Other than hair length, the other secondary characteristics reverted again on Sunday night. And again you didn't remember anything.
I suppose I should have left you a note that time, but . . . it felt like I was in prison in your body after the potion wore off, and I was afraid that if I told you everything, you wouldn't try the potion again.
But you did, and this time the effect was spectacular. I took some photos. They're on the flash drive. They're not very flattering - I look even better than the photos indicate. But they're still incredible. Think about that, when you decide how to proceed. And still photos are only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever it is that makes your donor women so charismatic and attractive just doesn't get captured in a photo; the sensual motions, the angelic voice, all the things that lift your DNA donors from merely beautiful to superstar icons.
I'd like to think I'd have told you this time, even if Madison weren't a witness who is going to tell you everything anyway. But I truly, truly hope that you'll look at the photos and see someone you want to be again.
Well, it's about 10:00 on Sunday night. I'm starting to get a fever as your body tries to reassert itself. After I took the photos, I found a salon that was open on Sunday and had most of my hair cut off. I guess it's an indication of another secondary sexual characteristic, but I cried when they did it. And I saved the hair. That's proof, I suppose, of what I've been telling you even aside from the photos and Madison's report. In the morning you'll have photos of a woman you won't recognize, a long bundle of silky dark hair, and . . . I'll be gone.
10:00 PM Sunday
Hello again. It's me Madison. It's been a long time. I haven't written in a diary since I was in junior high, I think. Maybe some in high school. But there are some things I just needed to write about, to organize by thinking through my fingers. So, diary, you're a handy way to sort out my thoughts, just as you were when I was a woman-wannabe just discovering boys.
Actually, that's sort of appropriate. Because I've just discovered the perfect woman.
How strange to write that! I'm a woman now, for all that some people still treat me like I'm in high school. And I never, ever thought I'd get involved with a woman. And she's not exactly . . . real. She's a feminized transformation of my boss, Dr. Jeremy Kyle, who had become the most amazing woman I've ever met, called Cheryl Kendall.
Not that I'm romantically involved with her. As much as I want that - as much as I feel a desperate, heart-stopping need to throw myself at her - we haven't done anything. But we're involved. As colleagues. As that most-dreaded-of-all put downs, as "friends." I want so much more than that.
It doesn't make it any easier - just the opposite - that she let me know she'd be interested, too. At least, she did one time. I was napping and she did the sleeping beauty bit and woke me with a kiss. The touch of her lips was fantastic! I felt the sort of magic that I used to dream about back when I was writing to you all the time.
But when I woke up and realized it was a woman kissing me, I pushed her away. I swear to God, that if I'd have been a little more awake, I'd have pulled her right down onto me and we'd have done whatever she wanted. Anything!
I suppose it's a good thing that we didn't, because she also truly is my friend - but as her other self. I just couldn't . . . go behind his back like that.
At least, that's the way I felt at the time.
I'm telling you diary, that she is the most intensely attractive woman - make that person of either gender or undecided - that I have ever met. Whenever I see her, my heart literally skips a beat, and my cheeks get flushed, and it's hard to breathe. This is not some sort of start-struck celebrity worship, either. It's flat-out sexual. My nipples get so hard they ache, and my panties get moist. And if she smiles at me . . . . I almost get a big O - a very big O - just from her smile.
After a while I had to get away from her. We parted on Saturday afternoon, and I had firmly decided that I wasn't going to spend any more time with her until she started to . . . whatever it is that happens when the potion wears off. And even then just as an observer. Then she called me, and asked me if I were free for the evening. Even her voice on the phone sent shivers up my spine. It was all I could do to hold firm to my commitment not to see her again.
That went away in a heartbeat when she asked me to meet her at the lab instead of going out partying or something. Or something. Wow, just writing that down makes me hot. Diary, you can guess the sort of 'or something' I was thinking about.
Anyway, she wanted my help to study what had happened, so that she could leave notes for Dr. Kyle. How could I turn that down?
So I did spend Saturday night with her. All night. I was so frustrated by the time morning came that I don't think I could have added two plus two and got within a couple numbers of the right answer.
Cheryl was brilliant - just like Dr. Kyle. Maybe even better. She had Dr. Kyle's scientific knowledge and creative genius, but she had something else . . . poise, confidence, energy. It was like watching a goddess work. The perfect woman.
When she first transformed, I was shocked, and part of me wanted Jere back. For all his lack of social grace - or at least, the lack that used to characterize him - he was, and is, a nice guy. He's the only guy I ever met who respected me for more than my bra size.
But now that I have gotten to see just how special Cheryl is . . . I don't want to lose her either.
Oh, diary, what I am going to do?
Chapter 8 - "Transition"
Jeremy Kyle, PhD, had never been a morning person. His alarm was sufficiently raucous to raise the dead, and therefore barely adequate to raise Kyle from the depths of his typical morning slumber. Thankfully, his morning routine was fairly short, even less now that he didn't have to shave. Or at least, it could have been.
Things went downhill from the alarm, as impossible as that seemed. A quick stop in the bathroom took longer than it should have. First off, he was having a bad hair day. His hair was thick and dark and lustrous, but it was at just the wrong length to do anything with - too long to be simply combed into place, and too short for a clip or rubber band to capture in a pony tail. Despite an array of options, the next problem is that he couldn't find the right items for the look he wanted. Mascara was easy, but all the lipsticks were too bold for the office, and somehow the shadows just didn't work either. He almost decided just to blow off the whole idea of makeup and go barefaced, but in the end he just couldn't do that.
*With this complexion I really don't need base or powder, at least, not so badly I can't do without until lunchtime. I'll make do with mascara and a bit of liner, plus some gloss.*
Then none of his pants would fit. They were all too short to start with, and seemed inappropriately tight in the hips. And his shoes seemed too big, both too long and too wide.
Searching for a better option found him one, but it wasn't what he expected.
Someone had put some very nice boots in his closet, and they fit perfectly. It made the problem of the length of his pants even worse, of course. The only pants that seemed to work were a new pair of jeans he didn't remember buying. They were actually a bit loose in the hips, unlike his regular pants, but they were tight enough at the low waist to ensure they wouldn't slip down. While he didn't usually wear jeans to the lab, these were so nice that he decided they were his best option. A soft sweater completed his outfit and he was at last ready to leave for work.
However, any remaining potential to get to work on time vanished when Kyle walked into his kitchen. Propped up on the middle of his counter where he couldn't fail to see them were three unexpected objects; objects he knew he hadn't put there. One was a written - or at least, computer-printed - note. That was actually good news, implying that he might get a little elucidation on what had been happening on his weekends. The second was a small flash drive, which was even better news because it implied that there were some real data for him to get his hooks into. The third was frankly inexplicable. At first he took it for some sort of brush. It was a three-foot long bundle of dark fibers. But when he looked more closely, it was obviously a bundle of human hair. Where had that come from . . . and why?
The note explained a lot of things, not that the explanation was particularly comforting. "Oh my God!"
A slender hand, with manicured nails, reached up to touch his cheek. "ohmigod," he repeated softly. He looked down at the high-heeled boots he had so readily accepted, and the now-obviously feminine jeans. "Makeup," he said. "Why did I put on makeup, and why was I bothered that I didn't have the right color lipstick?"
"Cheryl, are you in there?" he asked the room. No one answered, but there was a feeling of . . . resonance, almost like an echo to his thought.
His hands shook as he took the flash drive to his computer and booted it up. As promised, the photos of the woman on the disk showed an incredible beauty. *Oh my God,* he mused to himself, *If these don't do her justice, then . . . wow!*
If these don't do her justice . . .
"So what do I do now?" he asked himself. "I can't go to the lab looking like this half-and-half joke, but I have to get in there to see the data that . . . Cheryl developed."
Recognizing the need still didn't get Kyle any pants that fit - any of his masculine pants at least. After yet more time-wasting but futile searching, he finally settled on a compromise. With a pang of reluctance he didn't want to think about too closely, he took off the high-heeled boots and scrubbed the cosmetics off his face. An extra pair of socks made some of his shoes tolerable, and he rolled up the cuffs of his - or Cheryl's - jeans enough that they didn't drag on the floor. Of course, the jeans didn't have any useful pockets, but a handy sport coat took care of that, though for the first time he noticed - and was bothered - that his comfortable jacket was getting fairly threadbare. It also didn't fit as well as he thought.
He was finally ready to leave for the lab when the phone rang. The caller ID showed his own name, and it took him a second to realize that meant it was the phone in the lab.
"Jere . . . I mean, Dr. Kyle?"
"Yes. Dr. Kyle, are you going to be coming in today?"
"Yes, I was just walking out the door. We need to talk."
"We sure do." Madison confirmed. "I, um, how much do you remember?"
"Not much, but . . . Cheryl left me a note."
"Yes, very much, 'oh.'"
"Oh, Dr. Kyle, there's another problem."
"Another problem? Like we don't have enough already?"
"Yes, well the Consortium board of directors wants a status report . . . this afternoon."
"Oh damn. Just . . . damn," Kyle sighed into the phone. "Well, I better get in there."
Kyle's residence had been selected to be close to the consortium's laboratories so it wasn't much longer before he - finally - entered the building. Though he didn't know it, he received a lot less attention from the multiple day-shift guards than his other self had received the preceding weekend. They were busy anyway, laughing and sketching curvy shapes in the air with suggestive gestures. The computerized badge reader was just as contented as it had been Saturday as well, so he had no problem getting into his laboratory.
Madison was waiting for him. He had debated with himself whether he should show her Cheryl's note, but his blonde assistant had lost out on that option well before he saw her. Some of Cheryl's comments were much too personal for that. The note did make him look at Madison with new eyes though, and the - very unprofessional - thoughts his new awareness triggered were both shocking and . . . interesting. The net result was a much warmer smile at seeing her than Kyle had traditionally displayed.
*Oh my God!* Madison thought, stifling a gasp. *That's the same smile!*
She turned away so that Kyle couldn't see her flaring cheeks and more . . . pointed responses. Hoping a bit of bustling business with whatever was on the lab bench would cover her delay, she took a deep breath and tried to get her racing heart under control.
"Hello, Dr. Kyle," she said, carefully, as she turned back.
"Now Madison," Kyle replied gently, turning up the power of that amazing smile. "I thought we agreed that you were to call me Jere."
"Oh, of course . . . um, Jere," she stammered, then let her curiosity get the better of her. "Um, so, like, what did, um, Cheryl's note say?"
"She said I should give you a raise," he lied, though for some reason it didn't feel like a lie.
Madison blushed again, but the pert smile was back on her cute face as she relaxed a little. Apparently Cheryl hadn't told him everything after all. Actually, it had been very appropriate for professional colleagues and friends. All except Cheryl's kiss. But that's all that Madison could think about, all she had been thinking about. (Well, there was the way Cheryl looked in that awesome black dress, but . . .)
"She told me what had happened, during all three of the interludes I don't remember," he continued.
"Yes. I don't really remember anything from this weekend either, not after we got back to my house at least."
"Did she, like, tell you everything?" she asked.
"Well, Madison, if I don't remember what happened, then I can hardly tell if it was everything," Kyle teased her gently.
"Oh, of course," Madison replied, now much less confident that Cheryl had held back . . . anything.
"So, are there any other, like, residual effects," Madison asked to change the subject, "besides having, like, well-shaped eyebrows and . . . um . . .earrings?"
Now it was Kyle's turn to blush. He pointed at his jeans, prompting a gasp from Madison as she recognized them.
"It would seem," he explained, "that there is a residual effect on my body. My legs seem to be longer, though my overall stature seems to be about the same. And my hips are a bit, um, larger."
He shrugged and pulled at the small bit of excess material on the legs of his jeans, "Though not, apparently, quite as large as, ah, Cheryl's must have been. At least, not if these jeans fit her."
"Oh, they fit her," Madison said softly, then ducked her head in a useless attempt to hide a fresh flare of heat in her cheeks.
"Indeed," Kyle said with another little smile that did nothing to help her stop blushing.
*Ohmigod, she did tell him something! She must have. But what?*
His comment offered another possibility. "There also seem to be some residual, ah, psychological effects. When I got up this morning, without thinking, I put on mascara and eyeliner, and earrings that were a lot more dramatic than these little posts."
Madison's eyes widened at the thought. To her credit, she frowned at the problem rather than snickering at the mental image. "So, Cheryl is, like, influencing you?"
"I guess," he agreed. "It seems to work best when I'm still sleepy. At least, I think so."
"Are you going to take the potion again? Now that we know how it works . . . or at least, know of a pretty significant side effect?"
"I don't know. But we have another problem to address first."
A twinkle in Kyle's eyes belied the formality of his words as he asked, "So, Miss Bailey, what are we going to tell the board?"
"Oh, um, why are you asking me?"
"Well, you're the one that got the message. What did they ask for?"
"A progress report," she replied. "I think they're upset at our lack of progress."
"I wonder why," he replied wryly. "Just because we've been doing everything we can to stall."
He turned to the analyzer that showed the real results they had developed on Saturday. "Actually, this comes at a good time. We now have some real problems to report. Though they may not think they are problems. So, here's our strategy . . . ."
By the time they met with the Consortium Board of Directors, Kyle was wearing a pair of business slacks. They buttoned on the wrong side and had no back pockets, but that wasn't obvious. Madison had saved the day once again with a quick run during lunchtime. It was a small victory, but one that seemed valuable when Dr. Kyle, followed by Madison, entered the conference room.
Despite Madison's warning that the board might want to express their displeasure at the lack of progress, Kyle was made most welcome when he entered the room. As before, the prior conversation stopped at that moment, but it was not a silence of exclusion. Instead, each of the board members started moving toward Kyle. It might have triggered a defensive mindset, except each member was smiling and obviously wanted to get closer to the slender scientist.
"Goodness, Jeremy - you don't mind if I call you Jeremy, do you? - you look like you've been working out!" Ed Grainger, the chairman of the executive group, said heartily.
"I just love what you've done to your hair," Patricia Falken said, taking Kyle's arm and escorting him to his seat. "You must tell me what conditioner you use."
Madison was essentially ignored by the two women directors and by Grainger. Travis and Carlsen were not about to ignore a beautiful young blonde, but even they seemed only to give her a quick appraising glance before looking again to Dr. Kyle.
"So, Jeremy, how is your research going? Your last report was not very specific."
Kyle looked around the room, expecting aggressive demands from the board, but he saw appreciative interest instead. Interest that showed surprise when he started to talk - not for what he said, but for the voice that said it.
"As you might expect in a development as significant as this, there have been some problems . . ."
At the sound of his voice, Madison jerked in her seat, though Kyle only noticed because her shoulder bumped his. He looked quickly at her, to see her bright lips silently mouth, "Cheryl."
*Uh, oh. Apparently it's not only when I'm asleep that she, ah, influences me,* he realized. But her clear tones were low enough that it wasn't automatically a woman's voice. At least, he hoped it wasn't too far over the line. It was clearly a far, far cry from the rusty gate croak of his old voice.
*Oh, I just thought of something,* he realized. *This is the sort of thing that makes those donor women so special - or at least part of it. When they're in front of a group, their most attractive qualities really show.*
His introspection had distracted him from what he had intended to say, but the board had not interrupted him.
"It turns out there are several sites on the chromosome that need to be modified, and doing so in a strictly mechanical way - by penetrating the cell nucleus with micromanipulators for each DNA segment - does damage to the cells."
"Oh, that's not good," Grainger said.
"No," Kyle agreed. He squirmed a bit in his seat, suddenly feeling as though his new slacks were too tight.
Travis, the chemist and closest thing to a scientist on the board, flipped through his own notes. "I see that you had ordered samples of a virus . . . a strain 91-alpha, is that correct?"
*Oh, no! Busted!* Kyle thought, but the smooth features of his face showed no dismay. The words he might want to say did not come, though. Instead, he had an itchy feeling at the back of his neck, as though someone were watching him.
"Well, yes, but . . . um. . . ."
Grainger interrupted him, "What's the significance of that?"
Travis replied, "Well, it may be possible to use the virus as a carrier for the DNA, letting it introduce the genes into the cell without mechanical penetration."
"Is this true, Dr. Kyle?" asked Sharan Leica, who had previously been silent, though for some reason she had been frowning at Madison for a while.
In the middle of the important meeting, that seemed important to Kyle. *I wonder if she's jealous,* he mused. *She's much more attractive than Patricia Falken, but not in anything like Madison's class.*
The old Kyle would never even have noticed the little personal byplay, let alone had any insight into the cause. At one level, he was grateful for the little influences that Cheryl seemed to have on him, but at another level it was distracting. Almost as distracting as the overall itchy feeling that had seemed to build during the questions.
"Yes," he replied to the question on the virus, "but . . ."
"Excellent work, Jeremy!" Grainger replied enthusiastically. "That's brilliant."
Travis interjected another comment, "I noticed the virus was ordered several weeks ago."
"Well, um. . . ."
"Outstanding!" Grainger said. "That's thinking ahead. Now, how soon can this be ready?"
"I, ah, you should know about a, um, limitation," Kyle said.
The board waited patiently for him to continue. "It only works on, um, girl babies."
"What?" Leica asked sharply.
"The, um, DNA seems to have a, um, crossover effect. It may be why the donor women were so. . . ah . . . desirable. The appears the modified 6th chromosome convolutes itself within the cell and reinforces some genes on the X chromosome."
"Only girl babies. . . . interesting," Leica said. "I'll have to reconsider some figures."
"Tell me, Dr. Kyle," she continued. "Can this, ah, induce a girl baby?"
"Induce? I don't understand."
"Can it turn a male embryo into a female one?" she asked bluntly.
"I, um . . ."
Kyle struggled for the words to say, skating very close to having his secret experiments revealed. I tried to suppress a little shiver, but he didn't manage entirely because he could feel his sweater moving across his chest.
John Carlsen, the manufacturing specialist, rescued him although not from any sense of protection. Carlsen was just showing off the importance of his own specialty. "I told it you it was production, not theory, that mattered. If Dr. Kyle is having trouble getting the cells to survive the gene splicing process, he won't be able to do anything to embryos."
"I'm sure he can work something out," Grainger said, pontifically fulfilling his role as chairmen. "I must say, Jeremy, I'm impressed that you were able to see far enough ahead to order that virus sample. With that sort of foresight, I'm sure you're doing the best that can be done with the technical issues."
He looked around the room and received minor nods or other signs of consent from the remaining board members, then said, "Miss, um . . . Bailey is it? I wonder if you would mind excusing us for some board business?"
"Madison is my trusted associate," Kyle said, a hint of his old voice sharpening the dulcet tones of his new one.
"Of course, of course," Grainger said blandly. "But this is business, not technical."
Madison had begun to pick up her things with Grainger's first request, stopping to send Kyle a look of gratitude at his support for her. When Grainger insisted, Kyle shrugged, then sent her one of his smiles. It made her feel warm and welcome despite the attitude of the board. Quite warm, in fact, as her face returned to a too-common blush. She smiled in return and quickly left the room.
Kyle squirmed again, uncomfortable enough that he had about decided he was having some sort of allergic reaction to his new slacks. He almost missed the start of Leica's presentation to the board.
"All right, here are my sales projections. I'll have to modify them for the girls-only limitation that Dr. Kyle discovered, but that might not be a problem. It will seriously limit us in the Asian market, but it will probably increase our market here in the U.S."
"Increase it?" Grainger questioned. "Men are still going to want boys to carry on the family name."
"Not as much as you might think," Falken interjected. "First off, the number of out-of-wedlock births is nearing 50% of the population so the 'family name' thing is pretty much passe, and there has been a pretty widespread effort to suppress the typically 'boyish' behavior of past generations. Girls are actually more fun to have, now."
"I'm not so sure . . ." Carlsen said.
"Well, the numbers are sure," Leica countered.
She flipped to another slide and said, "As you can see, the Asian market was never a large share anyway. Not enough excess disposable cash, except in a few ultra-rich hands and they have access to wives and/or concubines of sufficient beauty already. So, if we assume the net effect of the girls-only factor is small, then . . . "
She showed her bottom line, and Kyle couldn't stop himself from gasping at the magnitude.
"Excellent!" Grainger said grandly. "And now for the really good news."
Turning to Kyle he said, "I must say, Jeremy, your technical expertise continues to impress the board."
"Thank you. I couldn't have done it without Madison."
"Yes, yes, of course. However, I have to admit, we've always felt you were a little too, ah, narrowly focused for a serious management responsibility. Too much of the scientist, perhaps."
Kyle felt an internal wince that he didn't let show. *He means, 'geek,' and he's probably right.*
"You've obviously been working very hard on that. You look much more stylish, and we couldn't help but notice you've been taking voice lessons. That's all very much of a surprise to the board, but very much appreciated as well."
"Thank you," Kyle repeated cautiously. Or perhaps he was just distracted by a widespread tingling in his skin; an itch that he obviously couldn't scratch in front of the board.
"As a result of our overall technical progress, and of your personal demonstration of an executive presence, the Consortium has approved the board's recommendation to offer you membership."
"Yes. As of now, you're a member of the board of directors for this research operation. Congratulations!"
The others politely clapped, while Kyle sat stunned. The shock seemed to multiply the itching sensation, and he felt feverish as well.
"Tell him the rest of it," Grainger ordered Falken.
"As you all know - excuse me, Dr. Kyle, this may be news to you - the Consortium parent companies have traditionally provided profit-sharing to the development teams who come up with major new developments. It falls to us, as the board of directors, to allocate this bonus."
"I, um, didn't know that," Kyle said. *You bastards. My discoveries have led to half a dozen new lines of business, and this is the first I've heard of it.*
"Yes, and as a new, ah, junior member of the board, you can expect a tidy sum from this discovery."
"The board gets the bonus?"
"Of course," Grainger said. "After all, this is a team effort, and we're the ones who keep the team working effectively."
Kyle was about to make a remark that might have been unfortunate, but he was distracted by a very pronounced flash of heat and almost uncontrollable itching inside his sweater.
Holding the briefing book he had been provided up in front of his chest, he pretended to study the material carefully while surreptitiously sneaking a hand up inside his loose knit top.
*Oh my God! I've got to get out of here!* he thought.
"As a junior member your share won't be quite as much as the more established members," Falken said. "After all, we'll all be receiving a reduced share ourselves since we now have an extra member. We previously worked this out as part of our decision to recommend you to the parent companies for membership in this board."
"Ten percent," Grainger announced. "Do you think you can get by on ten percent of . . . we expect to be awarded . . . five percent of the net numbers you saw up there? It could amount to millions!"
"Millions," Kyle repeated dumbly, still shocked by what his exploratory fingers had found. The tickle on the back of his neck got suddenly more intense, and he carefully pulled the collar of his sweater back for a moment.
"Yes. I can see you're impressed," Grainger said. "And I'm sure you will now work even harder to fix those annoying little technical details."
"Oh, um, of course," Kyle said quietly. *I've got to get out of here!*
"Very well, on that note, let's adjourn," Grainger declared, rapping his knuckles on the boardroom table.
All but Leica and Kyle filed out quickly. As she gathered up her own presentation materials, she looked at the squirming scientist.
*I don't dare leave until she does,* he thought.
"Dr. Kyle," Leica said as she left. "After the shock of being made a rich man wears off, give me a call. I want to talk about the potential for inducing female embryos."
He nodded automatically, too distracted to argue.
Chapter 9 - "We Have a Problem"
Dr. Kyle hurried back to the lab, clutching his briefing book in front of his chest like armor. When he ducked into the laboratory, he found Madison waiting for him. However, the presence of his colleague did not seem to reduce his apprehension. Clutching the notebook even more tightly to his chest, he said, "We have a problem."
Madison's expression was not immediately sympathetic. Instead, a furtive, almost guilty expression marred her typical innocence. Kyle noticed this unusual expression, with a sensitivity that would once have been as foreign to his perceptions as X-ray vision. It was enough to make him pause in his own concerns.
"Mad, what's wrong?"
"You first," she demurred.
Kyle frowned, but nodded. Lowering his notebook, he arched his back a little.
"Oh my God," Madison said softly.
Kyle sweater showed the unmistakable contours of feminine breasts, not as large as the final stage of Cheryl's development had been. But definite.
"I seem to be reverting to the Cheryl form," he said, as dispassionately as if he were recording a scientific observation. "Or at least, a feminine form."
He pulled the back collar of his sweater away from his neck and then shook out a tumbling cascade of sleek dark hair. It was long enough to reach his shoulder blades.
He made another observation with an unconsciously sensual gesture as his hands traced the contours of his body. "I think I'm also going to need those jeans I wore in today. These slacks are getting very tight in the hips."
He sighed, and let expression color the scientific objectivity of his voice. "I promise you, Madison, I haven't taken any more of the potion."
"I know," his technical assistant replied cryptically.
Kyle continued. "I can understand a bit of residual effect from the potions. In fact, it's the reason I started this whole line of study. Each time I tried it, my hair got a little darker and richer, my skin became more supple and healthy, my voice . . . well, you know all that."
He moved to a lab stool and sat down. "But accelerated growth in the absence of an active virus . . . . I don't understand."
"When did you first notice the changes?" Madison asked.
"I guess the first sign was my voice. You noticed that, too. I remember thinking that the donors were all famous for being attractive to groups of people, not just one-on-one encounters. Perhaps some subconscious release of clearer, more pleasant voice tones was triggered by the group situation."
"It might be, um, more than that," observed his assistant.
"Yes, of course," he agreed. "Even aside from the more obvious physical effects which have since manifested, we shouldn't assume the only stimulus is being in front of a group."
"Dr. Kyle . . ."
"Jere," he interrupted with a small smile.
"Jere," she began again, "I don't think you ever understood just how effective your discovery is at enhancing attractiveness."
Madison moved to take her own seat, then called up a file on her computer. "I didn't have pictures from the first time I met Cheryl, but . . ."
"You met Cheryl the first time, too?"
Madison sighed at the interruption, then continued. "Well, I didn't meet her the first time you took the potion, but I did meet her at the concert. I guess that was the second time you tried it out."
Madison was surprised at his lack of understanding. "She didn't mention that in her note?"
"No," Kyle replied. "She mostly described the extent of the physical changes, and . . ." He covered a bit of hesitation with a grimace. "Oh, something about a shopping gene." *I'm not about to tell you what Cheryl said about you.*
Madison giggled lightly at Kyle's wince. "Yes, that girl can shop. But that's not the first time I met her. It was at the University quad, for the concert I told you about. I didn't know who she was at the time, of course. She didn't look anything like you . . ."
"You could have told me," he said.
"At the time, I didn't think it had anything to do with you," Madison countered.
Before Kyle could say anything further, Madison continued. "Dr. Kyle, um, Jere, she was the most beautiful, most attractive person I had ever seen. Guys were hitting on her and didn't want to take 'no' for an answer. And she was dressed just like all the other coeds, shorts and a cropped t-shirt, with flip-flop sandals. But she was spectacular."
Kyle sat silently, trying to absorb Madison's remarks. When he didn't reach the conclusion she wanted quickly enough, Madison fed him the answer. "Don't you see, Jere? There's more to this than physical elements, more than healthy skin tone and whatever. The first time Cheryl was obviously trim and glowing with health, but she didn't have a particularly good figure, or glamorous hair or makeup, or anything to make her stand out. But she was still amazing."
"Then the last time . . . oh, Jere, you should have seen her . . ."
"She left me some photos. Apparently she took them after you parted on, ah, Sunday morning."
"Well, I'll bet they didn't do her justice. In fact, though she now had glamorous hair and a much better figure, most of what made her so compelling was there that first time. Things that don't really show in a photo, or in data dealing with bra size or hair length."
She continued, caught up in her own enthusiasm. "That's the point, Jere, there is something . . ."
He offered, "Call it 'charisma' for want of anything better."
Madison's blonde tresses rippled with her enthusiastic agreement, "Yes! Exactly! She was like the most charismatic person I've ever seen. The first time, at the concert, it was like she didn't quite know how to, like, control it and she didn't seem to know how to deal with the guys who were hitting on her, but the second time she was, like, so totally awesome that no one would bother her without invitation, like she was some sort of real-life goddess."
"Goodness, Madison, take a breath. No one is that attractive."
"Not even your Mrs. Bridger that impressed you so much?"
"No, not even . . ," he started, then interrupted himself. "You know, Anya Bridger was so focused on her husband that it didn't seem like she was fully aware anyone else was in the room. If she had actually . . . well, smiled at me or something, I might have . . ."
"Exactly," agreed Madison. "You have a killer smile, Jere, and it has the same sort of power that Cheryl's has." *Not quite as intense, thank God,* she thought. *Or I'd have tripped Jere and beat him to the floor when he smiled that smile at me this morning.*
"I mean, like, think about it. When you went to the board meeting, we were expecting them to hammer you for the delays, but as soon as you walked in, they were all over themselves to welcome you. Did that ever happen before?"
"Not really," he answered, "though after the first time I took the potion, they were more polite than usual."
"And this time . . . ?"
"They offered me a seat on the board . . . .and lots of money," he murmured.
"See? You have a totally awesome sort of, like, charisma thing, like you said, where everyone who sees you is, like, overwhelmed with happiness to be with you. It's, like, totally a compulsion."
"Calm down, Mad," Kyle repeated, then he bestowed her with a smile. He didn't deliberately use that new weapon to gain her compliance, and it fact it had an opposite effect to his request, causing renewed heat in Madison's cheeks and a heart-pounding catch in her breathing, but she did become quiet.
"When you start falling into teen queen speech patterns, it's time to take a deep breath," he observed gently.
"Yes, Dr. Kyle," she said carefully. "The effect you have on people as, um, as yourself is pretty dramatic. The board's reaction proves that. But the effect Cheryl has is just . . . well I can't put it into words, but it's way, way powerful. It's wonderful."
"Goodness, Mad, you seem almost smitten," Kyle observed.
"Oh, um . . ."
"That's okay, Mad," Kyle said. "You're probably right, and it explains a lot. There are a lot of pretty women in the world, but not all become movie stars, and not all of the movie star men are particularly attractive. But the superstars have this presence that lifts them above the rest. Something in this gene sequence has that effect."
He grinned wryly and observed, "Apparently the shopping gene is real, at least for women. So why shouldn't there be a 'charisma' gene as well? Add in conventional physical beauty, and . . ."
"Yeah," Madison agreed softly.
The guilty look was back in her eyes, and this time Kyle pushed her on it. "Mad, what's wrong?"
She wouldn't meet his eyes. Her fingers idly played on the keys of her workstation, not really hard enough to send a signal to the computer.
"Mad?" he prompted again.
"Do you remember what you said when I asked you to describe me?" Madison asked.
"Not exactly," Kyle replied. "I know you're hard working, and methodical, and responsible . . ."
"Responsible," she repeated, interrupting him with a grimace of her own. After a second, she continued, "I remember what you said. Word for word. You started out, just like this time, talking about my professional qualities. About my mind." She grinned her pert little grin and continued, "I was beginning to believe you didn't think I was pretty, but you mentioned that, too. Along with 'healthy.' It's a good thing you said, 'physically attractive' before 'healthy', or I'd have felt like a cow."
"I never . . ," he began.
"Sorry, Jere, I was just teasing. But the point is, you're the only one who 'sees' me first as a scientist, and only second as a pretty girl. I'm very glad I'm attractive of course, and I work very hard to be pretty, but this, um, 'charisma' thing is . . . well, I guess I've been dreaming about being taken seriously for my mind about the time my boobs started to grow bigger than most of the other girls I knew."
"Okayyyy," Kyle said, not understanding.
"So," Madison completed her explanation with a deceptively casual tone, "in a few hours, I expect to start developing a fever, and perhaps dizziness, then . . ."
"You took the potion!"
Her confirming nod sent another ripple through her blonde locks. "Yes, after I was kicked out of the board meeting, I just felt . . . angry I guess. Patronized and disrespected. And I knew where you kept the treated virus, so . . ."
"Madison, that's irresponsible! How could you conduct an unauthorized human experiment, and on yourself?!"
At this, she snickered, then lifted an eyebrow in an elegantly wry accusation. "I expect I conducted it just about the same way you did."
"That's different," Kyle proclaimed. She didn't even dignify that with a counterclaim.
He tried again, "But you're already beautiful, and you have a wonderful disposition, and . . . well, why would you want to change anything?"
"Thank you, Jere. That's very sweet. But haven't you been listening? I want that charisma thing. I want to be taken seriously, not just discounted as the pert young thing with the cute smile."
"But . . ."
"Look, Jere. It's done. If you want, and I hope you do, you can observe my transformation just as I observed yours. Now, what do we do with you?"
Kyle frowned and rubbed his temples. "Obviously, we need observations of the phenomenon affecting me also. It's already different this time in that I have a quite sharp headache."
He dredged up a smile that reminded her of the night they ate dinner together. It was more an attempt to be brave than real humor, and an attempt to be reassuring. "Of course, the headache may be caused by impertinent colleagues who are altogether too good at learning lessons I should not have taught."
Madison laughed, then stood to give her mentor a hug. "Thanks, Jere."
"For . . . for understanding. Even before I took the potion, I think you were the only one who understood me."
"Not as well as I thought," he replied wryly, but his own smile was a little less forced as his sense of irony showed through.
He looked around the lab and shrugged. "I suppose we should take a few blood samples of both of us as this brew does . . . whatever it's doing."
It took less than an hour to draw the blood and initiate the tests, but it would take several hours for the test results to be available - hours they didn't have to spare. Kyle's feminine attributes had continued to 'grow', both hair and bust, and he continued to battle his headache. When they had accomplished all they could before the analyzers finished masticating the samples, he leaned back and pressed his hands to his head.
"I think we need a break. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay," Madison said. "Though I'm feeling the first effects of fever."
"Okay, I need to step into the little room down the hall for a moment, then we'll leave."
"You go ahead," Madison offered. "I have just a couple more things to do, then I'll be ready, too."
Madison busied herself with her own work, wrapping it up just as her colleague returned to the laboratory. She glanced up, then looked up sharply. "Cheryl?"
"Yes, Mad, I'm back. Or perhaps I should say, I'm free."
"What happened to Dr. Kyle?"
"I don't know, exactly. But just as we reached the rest rooms, I felt like a . . . barrier had been removed. I was able to walk into the right room - meaning the ladies' room - and everything just seemed natural after that."
She snickered and hefted the shapes tenting her sweater and said, "Quite natural, in fact. I need a bra. This thing is rubbing my nipples raw."
If she noticed the effect her comment had on Madison's own attributes, she was discreetly silent.
Cheryl's smile did nothing to diminish Madison's response as she asked, "So, how did you know it was me? I mean, instead of Jere?"
"I don't know," Madison said. "I mean, your hair is about Cheryl's length again, and you have her - I mean, your figure back. But there was something that just said 'woman' about you."
Cheryl's nod sent highlights rippling through her dark tresses, "I never thought it would be so hard to characterize this sort of thing in scientific terms, but I agree with you. I just knew I was free, and a woman, and . . . .well, like I said, things seemed natural for me."
She took off her lab coat and reached for Jere's jacket, then paused. "Y'know, I just can't go out looking like this."
"I can, um, help hide you, maybe," offered Madison.
"No, it's not that," Cheryl said. "I just don't feel right with no lipstick or mascara. Give me just a second."
It took more than that, of course, but the lab had samples of all the consortium's products, so it was only a few minutes before Cheryl felt 'dressed' and ready to go.
"What are you hungry for?" she asked as she once again reached for Jere's jacket.
Madison's clear skin showed an unhealthy greenish tinge at the offer. "I'm not hungry right now."
"Oh, okay. I understand, I guess," Cheryl said. "It didn't work that way on me, at least, not so significantly, but maybe the timeline was off. You took your dose several hours earlier in the day than I did."
Madison's blonde hair flipped with her nod of agreement as she reached for her own things. "Would you mind driving? I'm feeling some of that dizziness you mentioned."
"Of course," Cheryl said. "Though if we get stopped by the cops, I'll have some explaining to do."
"Yeah," Madison agreed with a smile - a much-too-small smile for her normally upbeat personality.
Cheryl did made a side trip to pick up some takeout salads, but it wasn't long before they were in Dr. Kyle's modest home.
"Get anything you need," she told her blonde colleague. "I need to change clothes."
A few minutes later she was back out, dressed a bit more cohesively with a snug top and boots that didn't require her to roll up her pant legs. And a bra. Madison had taken advantage of the time to get some diet cokes to go with their salads, and they passed the time in deliberately irrelevant conversation.
However, Madison's eyes betrayed increasing distress, and finally she just stopped talking and grimaced. "I'm sorry, Cheryl, but I think I need to lie down."
"Of course," Cheryl said. "Would you like the spare bedroom, or is the couch okay?"
"The couch is fine," Madison replied. "Just . . ."
The blonde girl seemed to slump in her chair, and her head lolled back.
"Oh no," Cheryl said, but she realized she was speaking to herself. She managed to get Madison over to the couch, then covered her with a light quilt.
"I guess it's my time to be the dispassionate observer," she mused out loud. The arrangement of the small room didn't offer a lot of options so in a moment she was ensconced in the same easy chair Madison had earlier used.
*I wonder what the potion will do to her,* Cheryl thought. *I hope it doesn't make her brunette as well. That would be a shame. And I can't think of any changes that could improve her own natural beauty. It would be fascinating if it didn't make any changes at all. What would that mean?*
Looking at the pretty blonde girl sleeping on her couch - her face softly relaxed, a wisp of silky hair framing her flawless cheek - Cheryl had to fight hard to keep her thoughts scientifically objective.
Chapter 10 - "Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall . . ."
Cheryl’s musings in her journal seemed to take only a few moments, but in an ironic repetition of Madison’s earlier distraction, it caused her to miss the final transformation in the young blonde. Not that paying closer attention would have mattered. Madison stirred, stretched, and sat up on the couch without apparent change at all. The motion caught Cheryl’s eye, but nothing in Madison’s appearance indicated there had been any progress with the effects of the potion.
Or was there?
“I must have fallen asleep,” Madison said . . . then, “Oh!”
Her voice was like, yet unlike, what it had been. It had changed very little in range, replacing what might have been just a bit high-pitched - too reminiscent of a chirping bird - with a richer tone. But more than that, it was softer, with a throatiness that seemed the opposite of what the potion had done to Dr. Kyle. In his case, a groaning, atonal voice had gained a musical clarity. With those few words, it was apparent that Madison's voice had gained a sensual depth that added harmonics to what had already been clear.
She looked at Cheryl in surprise, then gasped.
And Cheryl matched her shock with a gasp of her own, "Oh my God."
"What?" Madison asked in alarm.
"You're . . . oh my god . . ."
Madison stood quickly and looked around for a mirror.
"No, Mad, it's okay. You're just . . . um . . . breathtaking." The taller brunette pointed at a hallway mirror to reassure her young colleague. The blonde quickly looked at her reflection, then frowned.
"I don't . . . what's changed?"
"You don't see it?" Cheryl asked in surprise.
"No. What are you talking about."
"It's your eyes," Cheryl said. "They're so . . . oh my god . . . sensuous. You know, I've studied human attractiveness my whole life, but I've never understood the phrase, 'bedroom eyes' before now."
"Yes. It's Marilyn Monroe, only . . . better. Heavy lidded, gently appreciative . . . and, well, sensuous."
"Really?" asked Madison. "I don't think I'm doing anything."
"Oh, beautiful, you're doing things all right," Cheryl said huskily.
"Beautiful?" Madison repeated softly.
"Oh, yeah," Cheryl confirmed. "Oh my God, we have got to get a sample of Marilyn Monroe's DNA!"
Cheryl began to pace about her small living room. "I see so much now, by contrast. And it's so important that you haven't changed a bit, in the sorts of things that scientists might measure. It's that 'X' factor that made Marilyn so fabulous, despite what was frankly a rather ordinary figure."
She stopped and looked at Madison and grinned, "Not that your figure is - or was - ordinary."
Her openly appreciative observation brought a flush to Madison's porcelain cheeks, and a quick ripple to her blonde tresses as she ducked her head. It brought another response as well - more than one, actually - and she twitched with an unconsciously sensual wriggle at her body's response. "Oh my . . ."
To her credit, Cheryl both recognized and did not acknowledge that she recognized Madison's distress. Of course, part of that was because she knew exactly what Madison was feeling.
Madison was too distracted to realize she was not alone in her distress. From the moment she had opened her eyes to see Cheryl's face, she had felt incredibly aroused, and it was just getting worse. Part of her wanted to fling herself at the taller brunette and rip away all the clothes either of them wore - and that image became more vivid in her imagination with each second.
Yet part of her felt awkward and shy. Not only because Cheryl was a woman, but also because a part of her still felt that it would be somehow unfair to Jere if she . . . did something with Cheryl. It was just too confusing for her frantically beating heart to sort out.
Cheryl was struggling with conflicts within her own arousal. That part of her which was still the social Jere (to the extent there ever had been one) felt no stigma at all against the idea of showing Madison how much she was attracted to the young blonde. And that part of her which was Cheryl had a sensuality that Jere never imagined. She was actually thinking of excusing herself to go . . . take the matter in hand, so to speak, when the part of her that was still the professional Jere demanded attention. She shook herself and resolved to focus on that professional.
*Analyze this phenomenon.* Cheryl told herself. *Get yourself under control!*
*What makes her so special?* she wondered. *She has those bedroom eyes, heavy lidded, and introspective, as though a part of her is always observing herself, examining her own reactions – and reveling in the sensations. But it’s not . . . arrogant. It’s almost vulnerable, like she’s wondering if others are aware she’s so close to the edge of surrendering to her own body. What would it be like to awaken that smoldering desire?*
"Oh, god," Cheryl groaned. "You have no idea how . . . amazing you are."
"Oh, I can guess," Madison said softly. Her tone caused Cheryl to look at the young blonde with a wider perspective, no longer quite disappearing into those captivating eyes. And what she saw was a young woman on the verge of explosion. Madison's breath was a desperate pant, her body twitched as though the nerve endings were on fire, and . . .
And the secondary signs of sexual arousal - two of them, to be specific - were painfully erect even through Madison's modest bra and knit blouse.
"Oh, my, we do have a problem," Cheryl sighed.
"Yes," Madison agreed with a sigh of her own that bordered on a moan.
With an unplanned unity of thought they both turned to look at the mirror, revealing two visions of beauty that seemed impossible except in fantasies. They were not the same, any more than the regal elegance of Sophia Loren was the same as the gamine courage of Audrey Hepburn. Yet, just as with those icons of beauty, they shared something.
Something beside the arousal that hammered at them both.
"Oh, God, Cheryl, what do we do?"
*I know what I'd like to do,* Cheryl replied, but silently. *Better get on another subject . . . something safer.*
"How are you feeling?" she asked her blonde companion.
"Okay, I, um, guess," Madison said.
"Perhaps we should go back to the lab and see if our results are done," Cheryl suggested.
Madison sighed sadly, not meeting Cheryl's eyes. Her slender shoulders shrugged, then she nodded. "If you wish."
The two breathtakingly attractive women separated without a word and made the preparations necessary for going out, even if it were just back to the lab.
Madison was struggling with more than the mechanics of makeup and hair. *Oh, god, what am I going to do? I want her so badly. If only I hadn't pushed her away when she kissed me. Now she thinks I don't want her, but dear lord I do. Even if it means Jere never comes back, I need her. Ever since I woke up with this damned virus working on me, I've been so *hot*, and she is the reason.*
*I should just tell her, but . . . even though I think she still desires me, she's keeping this professional. So I have to stay professional, too. No matter how hard it is.*
*Oh, god, it's gonna take three days for this to wear off! What am I gonna do?!*
It was just as well for both of them that it was late as they drove to the lab, and not too far. The combination of sensuous projection and sensual appreciation fed on itself so that each found it hard to concentrate on anything but each other. Still, some remembrance of pride in their own professionalism sustained them, at least enough for them to get to the lab and begin to study their results.
"Okay," Cheryl said, "we have one answer, and two questions. We know that this potion does have a compelling effect on attractiveness. It works on women amazingly well, and in a way it works on men, too. We found out why, at least in part, it seems to have a feminization effect. However, we don't know why I reverted without taking any more of the potion, and we don't know why I - that is, Cheryl - am so different from Jere in, ah, personality. Why don't you look into the first issue and I'll see what I can find out about the second?"
"Um, sure, Jere, ah, Cheryl, whatever you say," Madison replied, then grinned wryly. "Y'know, when you get all focused on the research like that, I can see a lot of Jere in you."
"Of course," Cheryl replied with a smile. "I keep telling you that."
"Yeah, I know, but it's hard to remember whenever I look at you."
"You should feel it from the inside," Cheryl said, laughing.
Her humor did not have the intended effect. Instead Madison grimaced, and moaned softly. "Oh, god, Cheryl . . . don't . . . oh, god."
When she saw Madison's reaction, Cheryl grimaced as well. She didn't really need an explanation. "Sorry, Mad. I'll, um, try to pay a little more attention to what I'm saying."
The incredibly sensual blonde just nodded, and took a deep breath as she turned to her own data.
Madison's research was fruitful, but only by a fluke. She was examining sample cells from before and after Cheryl's latest transformation, but by mistake she included a sample from before the initial experiment. As in many scientific discoveries, it was this mistake that provided the critical insight.
"Uh, oh," she said, capturing Cheryl's attention.
"What's wrong?" asked the taller woman.
"The virus has mutated," Madison announced. "It has 'learned' - I know that's not a scientifically accurate statement, but you know what I mean - to encapsulate itself."
Cheryl gasped, "Oh, no. Is it contagious?"
"No, I don't think so. There's still no sign that it can be transmitted except through injection," Madison assured her. "But it looks like it's not dying out at the end of the active period. A few seem to develop a shell and survive the body's defenses. Then, at some later time . . ."
"They break out and . . . transform me again?" offered Cheryl.
"Well, if things go as before, in a day or two I'll revert back to Jere."
"And after that?"
The glamorous brunette shrugged her slender shoulders. Then she sighed, "I think I'd just as soon stay Jere as keep switching back and forth, without any control."
"Oh, Cheryl, I'm so sorry. Is there anything you can do?"
"I don't know. Encapsulated viruses are very, very tough to fight."
Madison nodded. Then a more introspective look showed behind her bright eyes, followed by a frown. "Oh my god. I think I took my injection from the latest version of the potion - and the virus."
"So you'll be subject to re-infection as well?"
"Yes," confirmed Madison. "Though it won't be as dramatic a difference as it is with you."
"Hardly," Cheryl said with a sniff.
"No, but . . . it's not like this is easy," countered Madison
Cheryl was not sympathetic. "Oh, right. You change so little your driver's license photo still works, and I end up . . ." She waved her hands down her shapely form.
"Maybe I didn't change as much on the outside, but . . ."
Cheryl interrupted her, "Oh, right, I forgot to mention that you are now the most sensual, attractive woman in the world."
"You really think so?" Madison asked softly. "Because I don't. I think you are so much more desirable than I could ever be."
"Let's not make this a mutual admiration society meeting," Cheryl said with a grimace.
"I'm not, and that's the point," Madison said, then slumped on a lab stool. "I just have to say this, Cheryl. I'm finding it more and more difficult to . . . control my . . . urges. It's so . . . hard."
Cheryl grimaced and looked away. "Being 'hard' used to mean something very different for me," she murmured. "Something more, ah, appropriate."
Her young blonde colleague stood up, squared her shoulders, and stepped over to her taller colleague. "My urges . . . my need . . . are for you, Cheryl, Jere, both of you."
This time is was the blonde princess who kissed the long-haired brunette. However, the brunette did not push back.
At least, not for a long, delicious moment.
Then she did push herself away. "Oh, god, Madison, we can't . . ."
Madison's eyes burned with desire, but she wrapped her arms around herself and moaned. "Oh, Cheryl, when I thought it would only be a few more hours, I tried to control myself. I tried so hard . . . but when I found out it will happen again and again . . ."
She reached out to Cheryl, but the brunette stepped back even as her words revealed her reluctance. "Oh, Madison, I've wanted you since, well since forever. Even though Jere wouldn't admit even to himself, I've wanted you since we first met. And this body is every bit as sensual and . . . aroused as your own. But we can't. Not yet. Not yet . . ."
Madison's bedroom eyes drooped languidly as she repeated, "Not . . . yet?"
Cheryl moaned and took a step back toward the impossibly desirable blonde, but she caught herself again.
"Not yet," she repeated. "Not until . . . we figure out what to do about this."
Madison's sigh was very much like a moan itself, but she nodded, and squared her shoulders again. "Did you have any luck in your own study?"
"I think so," Cheryl replied, grateful to have something less emotional to talk about. "It's derived the 'left-brain/right-brain' paradigm. There is evidence that the corpus callosum of women is more fully developed than in men. Some consider this the source of 'women's intuition.' As Jere, I was - am - so ridiculously left-brained, or analytical, it's as though I were actively suppressing the artistic side of myself. Apparently, the feminization has, um, released my right brain. It may also be a part of the 'charisma' element in that I can better perceive the more subjective aspects of people and respond to them."
"And perhaps," she concluded, "there was always a woman's personality locked away in my right brain - one that is now . . . free."
"So, you've always had a woman inside you?"
"Perhaps," repeated Cheryl. "It was never conscious - honestly - but it's an explanation that fits the data."
"It does," Madison agreed. Then she sighed again, "I know I've asked this before, but . . . what do we do now?"
"I don't know," Cheryl said, slumping onto an adjacent stool. "I think we understand the biology now, or at least have a tenable theory. But that doesn't, ah, 'fix' what I started."
She glanced up at a wall clock in the lab. "If things hold true to the prior experiments, we both have a couple of days before we revert. And I'm tired. Things might be more clear in the morning."
"Okay, sure," Madison agreed. There was an unasked question in her eyes, though.
"Not . . . yet, Mad," Cheryl said with a sigh, yet with wry amusement as well. "I never, ever believed that I'd be turning down an invitation to intimacy from such a beautiful blonde. And I never, ever dreamed it would come from you."
"I didn't say anything," Madison protested, but with ironic humor of her own.
"Oh, beautiful, you say things with every breath you take," Cheryl claimed.
"Look who's talking," Madison whispered, her breath taken up with panting rather than voice as she responded to the building huskiness in Cheryl's tones.
Cheryl shook her dark tresses in a shudder as she stood and moved to her purse. "We better go. Get some sleep, and call me later, okay?"
"If you say so," Madison agreed dutifully, gathering her own things.
When she reached her small home, Cheryl disobeyed her own direction and sat down at her computer. She recorded their factual observations, then concluded her notes to herself with an observation, or a lament, about the future.
* It would not be prudent to assume blindly that we will get this virus under control. It has already demonstrated an ability to mutate and the approximate timeline for the infection to run its course after re-emergence is no longer assuredly fixed. As a result, I am subject to further, potentially random, transformations.
I have regarded myself in the mirror (finding that a surprisingly pleasant occupation of my time) and compared my appearance with that in the photos from the last transformation. As far as I can tell, no further changes have occurred. It would appear my Cheryl form is somewhat stable, as though a template had been matched. Or perhaps, as happened with Madison, once some level of basic femininity and appearance has been achieved, the rest of the transformation focuses on the 'charisma' factor.
On the other hand, my appearance as Jere has continued to change after every experience with the potion. During Jere's last appearance, he was androgynous at best, and more likely over the line to effeminate. He was already compelled to wear women's slacks in order to achieve an acceptable fit and there is no reason to believe any further reversions will return to a more masculine shape. Ironically, this is the converse of his prior concern. When he initially thought that some multiple personality disorder had awakened a cross-dressing tendency, he worried about appearing as a pathetically ugly woman. Now, while he might be able to pass as masculine when his hair is short and his breasts are small, particularly with some artificial touches like a false moustache or something, it appears Jere will always be at best a pathetically pretty man. That is clearly undesirable, but what is not clear is if anything can be done about it.
And that is during the 'masculine' phase. Now that it appears I will be subject to unpredictable transformations into an unequivocally feminine appearance, it will not be possible to pretend to be Jere - even an effeminate Jere - with any reliability.
That merely reinforces the fact that I cannot plan on continued employment by the Consortium. Our data are essentially complete on the experiments I intended - unexpected, but complete. And of course we were never going to complete the 'designer baby' experiments.
There is at least a partial solution to the larger problem, however. If I disappear, and it is discovered that all the critical data has disappeared with me, then perhaps Madison can escape the taint of scandal that will fall on me. She is a truly gifted researcher, and with her own charismatic enhancement, it is to be hoped that she will finally receive some portion of the respect she deserves.
I think I must lay out that option for her, and soon. After I take a nap of my own, I will call her and arrange a chance to talk outside of the lab.
Goodness! This potion is - excuse the play on words - certainly potent! Just the thought of meeting with her in a social environment has triggered a most fascinating arousal.
Or is that just the thought of finally getting a chance to wear my killer black dress?*
Chapter 11 - "Hiding in Plain Sight"
The tall brunette looked at her reflection in the mirror with obvious pleasure. Aesthetic pleasure appreciated all the conventional signs of beauty - long, sleek curves of figure and hair; large, luminous eyes; full, ripe lips.
But there was sensual pleasure as well, shown by the slow, appreciative glide of her fingers from her trim waist to her swelling bosom. She gave a throaty laugh - too rich to be a giggle - and tweaked her own very-visible nipples.
Then she gasped, and her knees nearly buckled.
"Oh my god, this body is so . . . sensitive. If Madison had tried to get to second base, I'd have been helpless."
"Oooh, that didn't make things any easier . . ," she moaned, the idea of being helpless in Madison's arms adding to the fires within her.
She steadied herself against the wall for a long, careful moment. When her breathing at least pretended to be steady, and not quite fast enough to be a pant, she shook herself and reached for her classy little clutch purse. She snuck a quick peek in the mirror as she tugged at the hem of her tiny skirt, then laughed again at the absurdity of 'hiding' her appreciation from the only person in the room . . . herself. But the humor pushed the remaining arousal out of the way and she made her way to the door.
Well, most of the arousal away.
Well, some of it anyway. Enough that she could focus on the mechanics of getting into the car without losing what little residual dignity there was while wearing the very-abbreviated shimmering black silk dress.
*I wonder what Madison will be wearing,* she mused, not quite able to pass on the chance to check her appearance one last time in the rear-view mirror before starting the car. *All I said was that we'd go somewhere for dinner.*
She laughed and added, *That's not really fair. If she's wearing shorts and flip-flops, she'll feel like a child next to all this elegance. But dammit, regardless of what happens, I deserve at least one chance to dress up before . . .*
That thought did what her resolve could not, dampening her arousal. It came at the cost of her good humor, but perhaps that was for the best anyway. There were important things to discuss and she needed a clear head.
Chery's clear head lasted only until Madison opened her door.
"Ohmigod!" they each chorused.
"You're beautiful," Cheryl whispered in awe. The blonde girl wore a daringly-short multi-toned blue dress that seemed to shimmer and shift with each breath - yet the colors always matched her eyes perfectly.
"You're awesome," Madison echoed with wide-eyed wonder.
Madison managed to break the stun first . . . with, as might have been predicted, a giggle. "Ohmigod, Cheryl, I told you that black dress would be awesome, but you're gonna cause a riot if we go to any of the places that would justify that look."
"Speak for yourself, Mad," Cheryl retorted. "Is that real cloth, or just paint?"
"Look who's talking," Madison replied, slapping at the brunette's arm. Then she looped her arm through Cheryl's and asked, "So, where are you taking me?"
"Someplace I can show you off," Cheryl replied. "Though I may need to stop somewhere to get some kind of club - or maybe a cannon - to keep the guys away from you."
"Not likely," Madison said with a sigh. "Next to you, I still look like someone's kid sister."
"Don't kid yourself, kiddo," Cheryl said, thumping the blonde lightly in the ribs. Then the dark-haired woman paused and looked at her companion more seriously. "You've got a combination of innocence and sensuality that is just devastating. Your dress and makeup are sophisticated and elegant, but the only 'kid sister' part of your look is a sense that you're not entirely sure you can control your own passion, like a girl on a first date with a boy that makes her hot. It's . . . incredible."
"Speak for yourself," Madison said. "When I . . . that is, anyone who sees you . . . it makes the rest of the world unimportant."
"Thank you," Cheryl said, honest pleasure at the compliment showing in a smile that showed a bit of little-girl innocence of her own. "But before we waste the whole night arguing who is prettiest, let's go show you off a little."
"Just as long as you're there, too," Madison said with her own smile of wonder.
The mechanics of getting to a restaurant provided topics for much-less-intense conversation, and all it took was a questioning glance at the maitre d' to get them seated at a central table in a fashionably elegant nightclub despite their lack of reservations. In the more cosmopolitan areas of the country, "dressing for dinner" had been making a comeback. The Crystalline Club offered sophisticated dining, with a sultry live singer accompanied by a band that was almost an orchestra.
Of course, the prices matched the self-imposed elegance.
"Can you afford this place?" Madison whispered as they were seated. "All of the sudden I feel underdressed, even though this is the most expensive outfit I've ever worn."
"Probably not," Cheryl said wryly. "But we're burning bridges, so . . . why not?"
She sighed and looked sadly at Madison. "Besides, I guess I still feel like a mayfly. I may be . . . gone again in just over a day. Let me enjoy my life while I can."
"Of course," Madison said, smiling a gentle apology. Reflexively, she avoided Cheryl's eyes for a moment and glanced around the room. "Ohmigod, look!" she gasped.
Another dinner party was entering the club, and in it were faces recognizable throughout America. Leading the party was a tall, middle-aged man with the lean strength of weathered oak. Victor Newman was an actor who made other actors better. Everyone knew it, and while he never seemed to win awards for himself, he had an amazing record of being in the films where some other actor or actress gave the performance of a lifetime. Even as he continued to perform additional roles in front of the camera, he had evolved into directing by force of ability. So many other actors and directors were looking to him for advice that the studios finally made him offers he couldn't refuse to direct his own films.
Yet Newman maintained that the reason he was successful was not due to his own artistic insight as much as that of his wife and lifelong soulmate, Vivian Colvert. She was still a beautiful woman despite her own middle-aged maturity and it was clear that she had once had the physical attractiveness to support her own career as a leading lady - which is how she had met Victor Newman. But as he had moved into directing, Vivian had moved into producing. Now she wore the gray in her pale hair as a badge of honor, knowing that her films were reliably profitable despite their lack of critical acclaim by the formal film community. She didn't miss the role of femme fatale any more. Now she was just the boss. They made a capable team.
But they were not the faces that had made Madison gasp. With the two established film makers were their latest group of proteges. Right now the "club" consisted of a spectacularly pretty young brunette with an implausibly taut body, a young man whom Madison did not recognize, and . . . Him.
"Ohmigod," she gasped again. "I don't believe it. I never thought I'd see him in person."
"Goodness, Madison, I didn't know you were such a fan," Cheryl said with a smile. She turned to look at the group again and frowned just a little. "I don't . . . is that really Victor Newman?"
"Huh, oh, yeah, I guess it is," Madison said. "But that's Nicolas Crowe!"
"The young man?" Cheryl asked.
"Geez, lady, get a clue!" Madison said, snickering. "He's only the hottest thing since . . . well, since whenever."
"Oh, my, I do seem to be a bit . . . out of touch," Cheryl said ruefully. "I guess I need to get out more. I don't remember the last time I watched a movie. Do you know the others?"
"The girl is, um, Megan Adler, I think. She's in that new science fiction movie. I don't know the other guy."
By this time Newman's party had made their way to their own table, not far from where Cheryl and Madison were sitting. Madison forced her attention back to her own dinner companion, finding that killer smile directed at her again.
"Don't do that," she whispered fiercely.
"Do what?" asked Cheryl.
"Smile at me like that," Madison said. "You're so . . . I just . . . it's . . . distracting."
"Oh?" Cheryl said innocently, the let her eyes droop in a deliberate flirtation - one that she modeled on Madison's own "distracting" expression.
"Dear god," Madison whispered. "I can't . . . oh my . . ."
She wasn't looking at the other group any longer. It seemed she only had eyes for Cheryl. Again.
Not that Cheryl found her little tease to be particularly comforting. When Madison turned her full attention on her mentor . . .
They might have fallen into each other's eyes forever, never to surface again, if they weren't interrupted by a diffident waiter - actually, the sommelier for the posh nightclub. "Excuse me, ladies," he said, and something in his tone said it wasn't the first time he had spoken.
"What?" Cheryl said, blinking back into focus. "I'm sorry. Did you say something?"
"Yes, excuse me for interrupting," he said, "but another party has asked that we deliver this champagne to your table."
"Champagne?" Cheryl repeated. "Who?"
"Mr. Newman's party, madam," the sommelier replied. "It is our best, and they ask if they might share a glass with you."
"Mr. Newman's party?" Cheryl repeated, frowning slightly. They she saw her again-distracted blonde table mate looking wide-eyed at the famous patrons. She grinned at the tumult of emotions that were pulling Madison into such pretty confusion, and gathered her own wits together again. "Of course," Cheryl said, addressing the sommelier. "Please, tell them we'd be honored."
"If you would wish, you could use a private room," the sommelier said. "I'll set this up in there."
"All right," Cheryl agreed. She gathered her small clutch purse and nudged at Madison's shoulder. "Get your act together, girl, we're going to be rubbing elbows with celebrities tonight."
Madison blushed, but she quickly gathered up her own things and followed Cheryl to Newman's table. "I understand we have you to thank for some champagne," the dark-haired woman observed as the three men rose to their feet.
"Well . . . I hope you don't . . . don't mind," Newman said with his trademark drawl. "It's not . . . every day that we . . . see such . . . y'know . . . compelling beauty."
"That's right," Vivian Colvert agreed. "I asked Vic to send you the champagne as a way to introduce ourselves. I'm Vivian Colvert."
"Of course," Cheryl said, "and we recognized Mr. Newman as well. And Mr. Crowe. And Miss Adler." Cheryl looked at each in turn as she named them. "We're flattered. But I'm not sure I know . . . ?"
"That's . . . a . . .a good thing . . . y'know," Victor drawled. "He's a . . . bodyguard. He's supposed to be . . .anonymous."
"Aren't you, Jake?" he asked with a grin.
Vivian slapped him on the arm, laughing at his joke. "Jake Hemming is the son of some very dear friends. We're meeting his parents after dinner. But he's not in show business - which proves he's as smart as he is handsome."
"Aunt Vivian . . ," the young man complained, blushing.
Megan Adler laughed a gentle laugh and poked him in the arm. "She's right."
"I think he would make a very good bodyguard," Cheryl observed, noting the young man's impressive size. "Allow me to introduce my . . . niece, Miranda, and I'm Cheryl Kendall."
Vivian waved off the round of handshakes before they got started, pointing at the waiting sommelier. "Shall we adjourn to a less conspicuous place?"
The party reformed in a small private area, larger by half than they required, but still much smaller than the main dining room. With the casual skill of long experience, Vivian Colvert steered each person to an apparently random but actually precise arrangement. She and Victor took the opposite ends of the table. When things settled out, Cheryl sat near the distinguished actor, Megan and Jake were practically holding hands, and Madison - Miranda now - was seated next to the still-silent Crowe.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Crowe," Miranda said, just managing to keep from gushing. "I very much enjoyed your last film."
"Thank you," Crowe muttered, barely looking at the shapely blonde. He blushed fiercely, and ducked his head, but he couldn't stop a series of sidelong glances that were obviously appreciative.
"You'll have to forgive Nicky," Vivian said. "He's really quite shy - especially around beautiful girls."
"Nicolas Crowe is shy?" Miranda repeated, her huge eyes rounding impossibly larger. "He - that is, you," she said, turning to her table companion, "seem so cool and confident in your films."
"That's not me," Crowe said softly. "That's just . . . the character."
"Nicky is going to be renowned for his acting long after the teen heart throb stage is past," Victor said confidently. "No one realizes how completely he embraces his roles. In his own person, he's really quiet, and - as Vivian said - shy."
"I think he's going to become an excellent director, too," Megan said, joining the conversation. "He can certainly spot talent - even across the room."
"I don't understand," Miranda said.
Megan grinned at the young actor and offered him a chance to explain. When he just blushed again, she giggled and said, "As soon as we walked into the room, he was pulling on Vivian's arm and insisting you had to be his costar in his next movie."
"You're joking," Miranda said, but she was looking at Nicolas.
The young man shot one more sidelong glance at the beautiful blonde, then he straightened in his chair and closed his eyes. A visible wave of change flowed over him - subtle, but distinct. Nothing really changed, yet everything changed; his posture, his expression, and when his eyes opened, his entire personality.
"Miranda," he said confidently, in smooth, rich tones "you are simply the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. And it was clear with every move you made that your outward attractiveness is only the surface veneer on an even more compelling grace and personality. I know you will make the perfect Aurora to my Alexander."
Miranda just stared at the transformed young man, only remembering after a moment to close her gaping mouth.
Victor laughed and nudged Cheryl. "I told you his acting is superb. Alexander, if you haven't guessed, is his character in Vivian's new film. And Alexander is suave, sophisticated, and gallant. Therefore it follows as the night the day, that Nicolas is as well . . . when he's Alexander."
"I . . . see," Cheryl said cautiously. "That's . . . impressive."
"Indeed," Megan said. "If I wasn't already involved in a science fiction film, with sequel to follow, I'd be begging for a chance to star with Nicky. He makes everyone look good."
"You don't need anyone else to make you look good," Jake insisted with his own show of gallantry.
"Thank you," Megan said quietly, smiling with soft, dewy eyes.
"Goodness, do you two need to get a room?" Vivian asked with a sharp laugh, but her eyes showed pleasure in their enjoyment of each other.
"Probably," Jake said, not looking at the other woman. "Are you offering, Aunt Vivian?"
"Not just yet, you scamp," Vivian replied with another laugh.
"What does all this have to do with me?" Miranda asked in confusion.
"We all think you're destined to be the next big star in Hollywood," Vivian said.
"After me, of course," Megan said - with a smile that was almost natural.
"Of course," Vivian agreed. "But the point is real. We're looking for the leading lady for a new film, and you'd be perfect."
"Isn't this a bit of a cliche?" asked Miranda. "Shouldn't I be in a drug store somewhere, wearing a too-tight sweater . . ?"
Victor laughed and said, "That didn't really happen, you know. But it could have. We're always looking for new talent, and . . . well, you have the most amazing presence. You can't define it, or bottle it, or train for it. But you've got it. We all saw it as soon as we entered the room."
"Everyone but Jake, that is," Nicolas said, smiling at the other young man. "He wouldn't notice . . ," he interrupted himself to smile ironically at the two older film makers, " . . if aliens landed in his lap. Not if Megan were in the same room."
"What's your point, bro?" Jake said, earning another happy smile from Megan.
"You have much the same presence," Victor said, looking at Cheryl. "I don't suppose you two really are actors?"
"Hardly," Cheryl said, smiling easily. She paused and looked at her blonde companion for a moment, then said, "I'm actually a research biochemist, and Ma . . Miranda is my assistant."
"I knew you were smart as well as beautiful," Nicolas said . . . to Miranda.
She blushed, but smiled with a sense of pride in an ability that her famous table companions couldn't match, despite their wealth and popularity.
"I'm impressed," Vivian said with real respect. After a moment of thought, she shrugged and said, "But my offer is real. I'd very much like Miranda to take a screen test for my new film."
Miranda frowned and looked at the elegant lady. "I . . . don't get me wrong, I'm not really doubting you . . . but I just can't believe it."
She looked at Cheryl, who took a long moment for her own thoughts, then she looked back at Miranda. "Well, we're at a, um, break point in our research, and we were talking about . . . getting away . . . weren't we?"
"Oh, yes," Miranda agreed.
"The offer includes both of you," Vivian promised. "I have a specific role in mind for Miranda, but as Victor said, we're always looking for talent, and you have a real presence as well, Cheryl."
"I suppose I should ask what sort of film you have in mind for my, um, niece," Cheryl said.
"It's an adaptation of Peter Pan," Vivian said, "but not one that Mary Martin would ever recognize. Basically, it's told from what you might consider Tinkerbelle's perspective - the character's name is Aurora - and she's really an alien who get stranded on earth. She meets her Peter Pan - who is very much grown up, not a child, Alexander - and with his band of secret agents is trying to foil a terrorist who hijacks weapons or kidnaps diplomats. That would be the Captain Hook type."
"I, of course, play the villain," Victor said, twirling an imaginary mustache. "Sterling Scythe, at your service."
"We want an unknown for the part of Aurora," Vivian continued her explanation. "We need a sense of innocence - as though she is just discovering a new world - and we decided that a new star would be most believable for that."
"It would certainly be a new world," Miranda said. "So, do I get pointed ears and little butterfly wings?"
"Actually, yes," Vivian said, laughing at Miranda's surprise. "But that's enough business. Let's just get to know each other, and after dinner you must come to the party we're having for Jake's parents. They're due in about - what was it? - 10:00?"
"Yes," Jake confirmed. "Megan and I thought we'd meet them near the edge of town and guide them to your chalet."
"It's hardly a chalet," Victor disagreed, then grinned. "It's much too far from the slopes for that."
"Yeah, right," Megan said, then she reached across to pat Miranda's hand. "You won't believe the view - views, because it's got these great balconies on all sides."
Miranda looked a little uncomfortable, like she was out of her depth, yet in a moment the charisma that the potion had awakened in her resurrected itself and she looked as serene and confident as before. It was as devastating as Cheryl had observed - innocent yet sensual. Vivian sent a silent message to her husband, who nodded, confirming that this girl was truly special.
Chapter 12 - "Future Perfect"
When they arrived at the 'chalet' an hour or so later, Cheryl and Miranda found that there was already an active party, and plenty of room for more. Before they let themselves be caught up in the swirl of gaiety, Cheryl pulled Miranda aside.
"We need to catch up a little," the transformed brunette said.
"Just a little?" Miranda challenged with a smile. "I think we've been lost without a trace for an hour now."
"Yes, and that's a good thing," Cheryl said. "Look, here's the short form of what I had in mind. I don't need to change my name - or I guess I should say that I already have. No one in the Consortium will be on the lookout for Cheryl Kendall. But they might look for Madison Bailey, so I gave them another name for you."
"I figured as much," Miranda said. "And I picked up on your idea that this is a great way to hide for at least a while."
Cheryl nodded, but frowned. "Yes, though ID will be a problem. I don't know if we can make this work."
"Actually, I can help with that," Miranda said. Cheryl arched an shapely brow in surprise, but she didn't say anything so the blonde continued. "I told you . . . well, the first time I met Cheryl I told her, but I don't know if you remember . . . that I train in aikido."
"I remember," Cheryl said. "Jere doesn't, but I do."
"Right," Miranda said. "Well, my sensei - that's the teacher - is an ex Special Forces type, and he has, um, connections." She sighed, then added, "I was so tired of being thought of as a kid sister, and I was really grumpy at one training session. He noticed, and we got to talking . . . . He offered to get me some ID that said I was older, and whatever else I needed, if I thought it would help."
"Hmmm," Cheryl said. "And you trust him?"
"Yeah," Miranda said. "I, um . . ," she interrupted herself and giggled. "He has a kid brother, Nate, and Sensei asked me to go out with Nate one time when he was visiting. But only after he taught me some, um, 'close-combat' moves."
Cheryl laughed at Miranda's smug expression, and waved her to continue. "The guy was pretty nice, actually, but Sensei was so pleased that his kid brother turned out okay - I guess they hadn't seen each other for a while - that he just felt . . . grateful I guess. Anyway, I'm sure he thinks he owes me a favor, and I'm sure he has the connections as well. You should see the photos on the wall of his office. I mean, he's met generals and in some of the group shots . . . he's a real, um, 'operator' if you know what I mean."
"Okay, I guess I believe you," Cheryl said. "So, I guess you're gonna be in pictures!"
"Ohmigod," Miranda said. "I still don't believe it."
"So get out an mingle," Cheryl ordered. "You're now officially one of Victor Newman's proteges."
"I don't believe it," Miranda said again, in a whisper, but she smiled as well. The happy girl moved back into the flow of people, to find Nicolas Crowe waiting for her. The young man had dropped the artificial persona he had donned so convincingly, but apparently he was feeling more at ease with Miranda and so could smile more naturally. In a moment, they headed for the refreshments.
"Victor would ban me from any more parties if I let this travesty against manners continue," a husky growl declared in an incongruously cultured British accent. Cheryl turned to see another movie star - someone whose name escaped her, even though she knew he was very famous - holding out a champagne flute. "A woman as spectacular as you should not be without a companion, or a refreshment, for more than a nanosecond at a time."
"Thank you," Cheryl said, looking up at a man who was quite a bit taller than she, even in her infamous heels.
"Tell me that Vivian has not signed you to her new epic," he demanded.
"I, um, no, I'm not an actress."
"Another travesty against all that is true and beautiful," the man declared. "I am so tired of working with vapid young birds that twitter about like lost canaries - beautiful, but brains rented from a second-hand shop. You, on the other hand, would provide the strength that a real James Bond would demand in a woman."
*James Bond,* Cheryl thought. *That's who this is, the new James Bond. He's supposed to be the best one since Sean Connery - a stone-cold killer with charm. What is his name? Dylan . . . Hawking, I think. I hope.*
"You flatter me, Mr. Hawking," Cheryl said cautiously.
"Please, call me Dylan . . . of if you prefer, Hawk," he said.
"Which do you prefer?" she asked.
"I suppose that depends on the circumstances," he said - a roguish smile implying an opportunity to explore that topic further.
He took her arm casually, but confidently, and steered her out to one of the promised balconies.
When - later - Cheryl approached Miranda, the tall brunette still moved with grace and elegance. But in place of her earlier sensual glide she now showed precision, as though she were made of delicately poised crystal. Only an occasional twitch in her breathing revealed that the outer poise was hiding something quite different internally.
She found Miranda in the arms of her young movie star and it was immediately obvious that they were not going to have any trouble displaying passion in any love scenes they shared. In fact, it looked like a few more minutes would result in a memorable love scene right in the middle of the party. For a moment, Cheryl wondered if she should leave the young blonde to her new-found "friend," and let her find what fulfillment she could, but . . .
*If she's feeling anything like what I'm feeling, she's not . . . under control enough to be making that sort of decision right now,* Cheryl thought. Reaching out with a hand that revealed another sign of turmoil with a noticeable tremor, she touched her friend and co-conspirator on the shoulder.
"Miranda," Cheryl said softly, then again a bit louder, "Miranda."
"What? Hunh?" Miranda said with less-than-elegance. Her long lashes blinked repeatedly, and she was obviously having trouble focusing on her surroundings.
"Miranda, I think we need to go," Cheryl said.
"Go?" Miranda repeated in confusion.
"I'm sorry, Nicolas," Cheryl said. "But we, um, have some . . . research that . . . just can't wait."
"Research?" Nicolas repeated, not much more cognitive than Miranda.
Miranda staggered a little as she looked around in shock, blushing at the display that some part of her realized they had been making. Panting with the desperation of a cornered doe, she said, "Yes, we . . . need . . . to, um . . ."
"Let me drive you home," Nicolas offered.
"I think . . . not," Cheryl said slowly, her own breath becoming more ragged at Miranda's signs of arousal. She shivered a little as she tried to get her own feelings under control. In a moment, she managed a smile at the young man. "I'm sure . . . very sure . . . that we'll be in touch. But for right now, we need to . . . organize our . . . thoughts."
She pulled the aroused blonde with her toward the exit, accepting their wraps from a servant who waved at a waiting limousine.
"Oh, that's not our car," Cheryl said. "We'll need a cab."
"Mr. Newman has made his vehicle available for any of his friends who needed a ride," the servant - who looked like the bodyguard that Newman had mentioned earlier - said easily. "Some of his guests will be . . . unable to drive themselves home."
"Oh, um, fine," Cheryl said, trying not to notice the way the man's gaze seemed to absorb every square inch of her form, though he never seemed to break contact with her own confused eyes. And she tried not to notice how much taper there was between his massive shoulders and his trim . . .
Especially when he turned away to open the door for them.
Or bent over to help Madison in the car.
"Mr. Newman's card," the man said, handing one to Cheryl as he helped her into the car in turn. "It has his private number. I'm sure he'll be happy to have you call any time."
"Oh, um, thank you," she said, still finding her mind distracted by things she didn't really want to consider.
Miranda . . . or maybe Madison again . . . was leaning back in the seat with her eyes closed, panting. A languid hand seemed to drift up her side, lingering over her taut stomach as though undecided where to go next.
"Madison, control yourself!" Cheryl demanded, though even as she said it she knew she was dancing on a razor's edge with her own arousal.
"What? Oh . . . my," Madison whispered, tucking her hand out of sight beneath her . . . which didn't really help because a moment later she was squirming again, rubbing her rounded contours over her kneading fingers.
"Oh, god, Cheryl, this is . . . too much," she gasped. "When Nicky kissed me, it was . . . unbelievable."
"Tell me about it," Cheryl said ruefully, a wistful look in her eyes calling up memories of her own.
Madison noticed and asked, "What, um, happened with you?"
"Do you know who Dylan Hawking is?" Cheryl asked.
"Do I?! He's only the most awesome actor in action films. The new James Bond, and he's making everyone forget all the others."
"Yeah, that's the one," Cheryl agreed dreamily.
She shivered again, and tried to focus on Madison. "Well, he was there . . . and . . ."
"Oh, god, Cheryl, don't tease like that!"
"What, oh . . ," Cheryl said, interrupting her reverie. "He, ah . . . kissed me."
"He did?" Madison repeated, not really questioning her friend.
"Ohhh, yeahhh," Cheryl said huskily. She shook herself, forcing her body into an upright posture on the soft, deep seat. "Oh, god, Mad, this potion is just too . . . . much. I can't fight this arousal. In another minute, I'd have raped Dylan right there on the balcony."
"You'd have tried," Madison snorted. "He'd have killed you with a snarl if you tried anything.
Then the blonde giggled and added, "Or if you didn't. Girl, you are hot enough to melt a glacier. I don't think he would have fought very hard."
"If so, it would have been the only thing not hard about him," Cheryl said, eyes losing focus again.
"So what happened?" Madison demanded.
"I really don't know," Cheryl answered. "I must have . . . realized what was happening, and I just . . . ran away, I guess. I came to find you, and . . ."
"And if I'd have been just a little less zoned out right then, I'd have killed you myself," Madison said, but she laughed. A little. Like it was closer to being true than she wanted it to be.
"I figured," Cheryl said with a deep sigh. "But if this potion is affecting you with any measurable fraction of the way it's affecting me, then . . . well, we might not be making the best decisions right now. Particularly not with men we've just met."
Madison nodded, closing her eyes and trying to get her breathing back under control. The limo swayed through a sharper curve as they left the freeway, and Madison found herself sliding into Cheryl. Not that she fought back very hard. And then their arms were touching - soft, smooth, gently curving arms that were so close to other gentle, intriguing curves . . .
"Oh, god, Cheryl, I am so hot right now. I need . . . oh, god . . . so bad . . ."
She flowed over her mentor and friend, lips desperate with need - finding hungry lips and soft curves that were just has hot . . . and just as needy.
Miranda became a one-name star.
No one needed any further identification to know which "Miranda" was being discussed in any conversation in America. It was impossible to experience her performance in Vivian's movie - renamed "Aurora" partway through filming - without being captivated by the young blonde's presence. At first, reviewers compared her to everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Mae West, but soon she was in a class by herself.
-- "If I hadn't been allowed backstage to see her in her, ahem, natural state, I might really have believed that Miranda is an alien. She is supernaturally beautiful - everyone agrees to that - but the range she showed as Aurora was just impossible for a real person."
-- "At one moment Aurora seemed like a young flower trembling with morning dew, sweetly innocent, and if that sort of thing is even possible any more, virginal. The soft, colorful butterfly wings of her 'fairy' persona were the perfect touch. Then the fangs would come out and she would erupt as a Fury out of myth with a fierce deadliness that made me never want to meet her in a dark alley - unless she was on my side. All of the sudden, the truly ancient legends about fairies, and how you don't want to mess with them, were made very real."
-- "But when she met Alexander . . . This is the only film in Hollywood history that probably needed an R rating for pure passion, even though none of the clothes come off and there's nothing more physical than a kiss, nothing even implied, except perhaps after the scene fades to black. My sympathies to Nicolas Crowe as Alexander. Can you imagine what that kiss was like from his side? And then to have to go on to the next scene? I need to check on the production company's bills for cold water and ice cubes, because he certainly needed something to shock him back to reality after even a moment with Miranda in his arms."
In recent years, the Academy Awards for Motion Pictures - the Oscars - had become more about political statements than artistic accomplishment. Nonetheless, it was a foregone conclusion, despite it being her first role, that Miranda would be nominated for an Oscar. And even her competitors wanted her to win, because anyone who took that trophy away from Miranda would be hated from Nome to McMurdo Sound.
The presenter for the Best Actress award was another young actress. Young and happy . . . and conflicted more than a little by the irony of the situation, but but still coming down on the side of happiness for her friend. Megan Adler hardly looked at the card when she opened the envelope to announce the winner for Best Actress Oscar. There was still a surprise, though.
As soon as Miranda started a charming - and what might have been fairly short - acceptance speech, she was interrupted.
Nicolas Crowe walked out onto the stage, though he was not in the script for the show. Smiling, but with eyes only for his incredible costar, he walked to her and dropped to one knee. There, in front of a world-wide audience and all the celebrities in Hollywood, he loudly announced, "Miranda, I love you. Will you marry me?"
The rock he offered her was only slightly smaller than a golf ball. Or so it seemed to the blushing blonde. She raised her eyes from the glittering stone to her handsome suitor and saw a commitment that made the public nature of his proposal only an echo of a more important truth.
And Miranda realized she shared that truth.
Her long lashes started to flicker quickly to hold back emotions too full for merely human eyes, and she nodded.
It was, needless to say, both the shortest and the longest acceptance speech on record. She barely said a dozen words - and none after Nicolas went to her - but the explosion of sound rolled around and around the room, gaining energy rather than dissipating as the young man stood up and they kissed with a passion that even their movie had not revealed.
Cheryl made her own way to the after-ceremony party, again hosted by Victor Newman and his wife. And again, she had hardly entered the room when a rumbling growl - in cultured Britspeak - said, "Alone, and no refreshment. Again. This simply will not do."
The elegant brunette turned to see the uber-cool James Bond look of Dylan Hawking in a perfectly tailored tuxedo. And again, he was holding out a flute of champagne.
"Hello . . . Dylan," she murmured softly.
"Hello, my future costar," he replied. "You lied to me, you know."
"Lied?" Cheryl repeated.
"Oh, it was a lie of omission," Hawking said. "But when I suggested you looked more intelligent than my typical leading ladies, you should have mentioned that you had a Ph.D. in biochemistry."
"You've been checking up on me?" she asked with a teasing smile.
"Of course," he said unabashedly. "Frankly, I can't get you out of my mind."
"We only met for a few minutes, and that was months ago," Cheryl said.
"Yes, and that is simply intolerable," he replied, implying that her observation was a complaint. "Although, I only found it out through Vivian. I wasn't able to confirm it. Did you read biochemistry under another name?"
"Ah, yes, I did, actually," she admitted.
"And that name would be . . .?"
"My secret," she replied blandly.
"Of course," Hawking agreed easily, smiling a tease of his own that suggested he had not given up on the topic. "Be advised, milady, that I will not let you go so easily this evening. Last time we met, I had assumed you were just powdering your nose - since we perhaps smudged your makeup a little - when you rushed away. And then I found you had left."
"Yes, I did. I'm, um, sorry," Cheryl said, her eyes losing focus as she remembered that evening.
"Apology accepted, of course," he said. "I'm afraid there's very little you could do that would be unforgiveable. Nothing I can think of, in fact."
With that, he took her arm and once again steered her toward a more private location. But Cheryl was rescued, if that's what she wanted to consider it, by the arrival of the evening's multiple guests of honor.
Vivian Colvert led the way, clutching her own golden statuette. "Aurora" had won best picture, and as the producer that made that particular trophy her own. And for the first time, Victor Newman received the pinnacle accolade of his profession, though as director rather than as actor. And of course, Miranda . . .
After a few minutes, the young blonde managed to work her way through the well-wishers to her brunette mentor's side, subtly allowing her new fiance to remain ensnared. She bestowed on Hawking a look that even a truly cruel man could not have resisted, and with a wry look of promise at Cheryl, he moved away and let them have a moment together.
"I still can't believe it," Miranda said.
"I can," Cheryl countered. "You're just awesome, girl."
"Thanks to you," Miranda sighed.
"I think you had something to do with it as well, Madison," Cheryl said. "Any regrets?"
"Are you kidding?" Madison/Miranda said. Then she looked thoughtful and asked her mentor, "What about you?"
"No, not really," Cheryl said, and if there was pain behind her eyes, it was deep and the focus was unclear.
"Any progress?" Miranda asked.
"No," Cheryl said. "It's clear that the virus has mutated into a self-replicating form. That's what I get for trying to play God, and it's clear that I won't be using that potion on anyone else. We're both stuck like this."
"Ah, too bad," Miranda said, eyes twinkling. Then once again, she became thoughtful and sighed. "I'm sorry to . . . um . . . abandon you, but . . ."
"Oh, don't be silly!" Cheryl said with a laugh that certainly sounded genuine. "Nicky is a genuine hunk, and truly, totally, awesomely in love with you. I wouldn't want it any other way."
"But . . . what about you?" Miranda said. "I mean, we . . ."
"Yes, we did," Cheryl rescued her with an interruption. "And it was the most memorable night of my life. But it was never meant to be a forever and ever thing. A girl like you needs a chance to be a mommy. You'll be a great one."
Miranda blushed, but her eyes lost focus - or focused inward - for a moment and a gentle smile of deep, deep happiness curved her famous lips.
After a moment, she looked back at Cheryl and asked again, "But, what about you?"
"Oh, I don't think I have to worry about being lonely," Cheryl said lightly. She looked for her tall suitor, and smiled a promise that she wouldn't be alone much longer.
Then she looked back at the most famous woman in America and said, "I do have one small regret."
"Oh?" Miranda prodded.
"I wish that Jere had not been so smart he was stupid," Cheryl said with a surprisingly childlike giggle. "He should have swept you off your feet the first time he saw you."
Miranda giggled along with her beautiful companion, and nodded in an agreement that both of them knew was about something that could never have happened.
"Now, get back to your lover boy," Cheryl ordered, pushing Miranda back toward the crowd. "I've got a date of my own."
"See you around?" Miranda asked hopefully.
"Count on it," Cheryl promised. "You never know, we might even become competitors!"
"You could play my mother," Miranda offered impishly.
"Someday, somewhere, when you least expect it, I'll get you for that," Cheryl said darkly, then she laughed and added, "But not tonight."
With that she turned away from her young friend and toward her new life.
Back to Brandy's Share of the Duplex