By Silverhope

4741 C.E.

Candace Avorsen looked about her in delight as she entered the Land of Fantasy. Pleasure houses, though known of, were unknown on her native planet; but she was on vacation here in Vidran, a city on the planet Videra, and she had been told at her hotel that this was one of the chief attractions of the planet. It was famous among the tourists as well as the locals; junkets were often arranged from nearby systems, including the Republic capital of Limlight, to visit the house.

Candace decided for herself that if the décor was any indication of other qualities, the reputation was well deserved. Marbles and porphyry made up the walls, and comfortable leather seating filled the room. A huge bar stretched for a quarter of one of the short walls, and was well populated. It looked a pleasant place to spend a night even if one wasn't interested in sex. Of course, would she be able to afford the tale at the end? She would have to be careful of her credit if she didn't want to hop the next ship off-planet for home. Friends had assured Candace that she could afford things here, that the price scale was broad and covered any credit rating; but she was not so sure of that from first appearances. Still, looking cost nothing, and she could surely afford a few drinks.... She smiled to herself and moved deeper into the room, listening to the voice of a highly skilled singer who was plying her own trade in a spotlighted corner set up as a bistro.

Walking about the room, she could not help but admire the elegance of the people she saw. The cream of the social strata seemed to be sitting at the tables. Candace saw gowns from the very latest collections all about her; jewels that an emperor or empress would not disdain to wear; tastes in food, drink and recreational drugs that hurtled past the limits of both her experience, wallet and personal desires. She brushed a hand against the shopsilk fabric of her evening gown a little self-consciously; the gown was off-the-rack on her home world, and the silk-like fabric had been created as a cheap substitute for the real thing that she saw surrounding her here. However, she decided with some vanity, even the richest looking of the women here had nothing to complain about if they looked at her. Her slim figure and auburn-haired, green-eyed beauty had always been popular back on Quintanus IV; here, despite the lack of expensive gowns and jewels, or a trip to a salon or private designer, she had nothing to be ashamed of.

The only exceptions were a large number of men and women scattered throughout the room. In a place filled with beauty, these people stood in a league of perfection of their own. The most striking thing about them was that each one's flesh was either gold or silver in hue. They laughed and danced and flirted with many other people here, and were clearly the most attractive thing in the huge hall. People constantly attached themselves to these lifeforms. Many of the couples, and even some trios or foursomes, were disappearing toward a bank of turbolifts in the far wall, and Candace wondered if the lovely golden people were taking advantage of the services of the house.

She was standing at the bar an hour later, sipping and people-watching, when she noticed an elegant woman approaching her from a distant table. Swirls of raven black hair covered her head in a beautiful coiffure interlaced with gold braiding bands, over a deep-cut gown of black silk with a tall collar of long feathers in a deep wine red, framing the towering hairstyle she wore. She carried a glass of red liqueur in a hand whose fingers were tipped with long, deep crimson nails. She smoked a long white cigarette in a red enamel holder.

She said as she came to stand beside Candace, "It looks like you're enjoying yourself, child."

Candace glanced in mild surprise, but her smile never wavered, and she nodded. "This is a wonderful place."

"I thank you for the compliment," the stranger said with a bow. "I'm the owner. Cheryl Makerson is my name."

"Candace Avorsen. I've never seen such fun going on in a pleasure house; I've always imagined it's people just trolling for each other."

"Oh, I believe in more than that, my dear. If you're just looking for a bump and grind, the people on the street or in other pleasure houses will do as well. In here, all your senses are catered to, preparing you for the best experience you'll ever have. That's why people come from every planet in the quadrant to enjoy themselves here. You could be enjoying yourself right now, you know," she added, examining Candace with an approving eye.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but I don't think I could afford your rates."

"Our rates work on a sliding scale; you pay what you can afford - confirmed with your bank, of course. But you don't have to feel pressured into it; many people come here to simply enjoy a night of drinks and conversation with friends, and never see the artist's rooms."

"What planet are those gold and silver people from?" Candace pointed at several of the men and women she had noticed.

Cheryl perked her eyebrows and smiled curiously before answering; it was clear that this guest had never read the promotional literature, and she sounded unfamiliar with local laws. Too good an opportunity to waste. "Their home is a planet called Jkandar. I'm told that it's a world where radiation required a metallic skin to preserve life; other than that, they're just like you and me...aside from their wealth." She began fingering a large diamond pendant suspended between her breasts, which glittered in the lights around the bar.

"Their wealth?" Candace found it hard to turn away from the light fracturing out of the jewel.

"Mmhmm. There isn't a poor person on the planet; each one is rolling in credit, compared to the rest of the galaxy."

"There must be many people want to live there. I've never heard of Jkandar myself, but I live on quite a backwater world; I just decided that I needed some exposure to the wider Republic, so I came here on vacation." Candace pulled at her own cigarette for a moment, devoid of holder, and blew a cloud of thoughtful smoke into the air while Cheryl continued playing with her pendant. Almost without knowing it, seductive, unvoiced words of an appealing, wealthy future began sinking into Candace's mind. A few minutes later, she said, "I suppose they wouldn't be looking for people to come to their planet to stay, like interior decorators?"

Cheryl smiled knowingly. "Is that what you are?"

"Yes, and somewhat underemployed. I had to save for two years standard to get here. Not that I was ever thrilled as a decorator; Mom and Dad made me do that instead of acting, like I wanted. But it keeps a roof over my head and bread on the table, even if I do work for someone else. Now I may have a chance to become my own person. If they do allow immigration, it sounds like an opportunity to make my fortune, even as a decorator."

"Well, they do allow immigration, from what I hear. Their embassy is just down the road from here, and I suspect they need people to determine taste for them as much as anyone else. Others have become interested in life and fortune on Jkandar, undergone the process to convert their bodies and survive on the planet, and they come back saying they're thrilled with the life, and with their bodies as well."

Candace gazed again at the women in the room, sophisticated, beautiful in their silver and gold skin, and the equally handsome men, and started imagining what it would be like to have one of those men inside her. "I can believe that," she said dreamily.

"Then why not give it a go? You should be able to find something to turn your hand to if you are accepted for immigration. They say opportunity not pursued is wasted." Cheryl signaled the bartender and asked for a paper notepad and stylus, and wrote an address on it. "Here; give that to any floatcab driver. They'll take you to the embassy."

"Thank you so much! But why are you doing this?"

"I just like to make my clients happy." Again that little smile, but Candace was looking too eagerly at the card and its scribbled address, listening to the unheard music in her mind, to pay any attention.

It was easy to find the Jkandar embassy, though the embassy was an unprepossessing building for such a reputedly rich planet. A golden desk clerk took Candace to the immigration office, which approved her strange snap decision almost on the spot, and informed her that they could begin the transformation process to prepare her for life on the planet now. Without thinking, Candace vigorously shook her head and followed the immigration officer to another office, containing a normal-appearing technician. The tech bade her sit down, then reached into a refrigerator behind his desk, saying, "Do you declare again that this is what you wish to do?"

"Yes," Candace said eagerly.

"Then drink this," the tech said, "and enjoy your new life." He handed Candace a beaker of a shimmering golden fluid and stepped back.

Candace drained the draft in a gulp, wincing at the slightly metallic taste, and set the beaker aside. A warm glow began suffusing her immediately, starting from her mouth and spreading rapidly through her body. She began running her hands over herself in sensuous enjoyment, more rapidly as the glow penetrated her pleasure centers. Soon she could no longer stand from the rapturous pleasure that coursed through her; she felt herself being lowered onto a cushioned table and something being affixed around her wrists. Then tubes were being thrust into her mouth and nose and sealed to her skin, which had begun to glow and pulse with light. More penetrated her from below and expanded to fill her spaces; and Candace felt some new stuff being pumped into her, filling all her cavities within her body, stomach and lungs included; but it mattered little compared to the incredible pleasure.

A tug at her wrists pulled her gently upright and left her suspended from the ceiling. Head drooping, Candace saw muzzily that a dark blue substance was being sweated out of her body, covering her in some sort of azure sheathing. As she climaxed powerfully, she felt some sort of net being clamped onto her still uncovered head; then she sensed herself passing out, and knew nothing more for endless time....

Seven full days passed from the time she blacked out until her rebirth. The azure substance had covered her thickly, finally concealing any feature that might have betrayed the identity of the inmate as a human. Within that blue stuff, powerful changes pulsed through Candace's body; and as each day passed, the coating became softer, thinner and finer in quality, until-

A convulsion shuddered along the surface of the silken blue cocoon, and a golden leg suddenly kicked its way out of the covering. More jerks and hitches soon had the stuff in tatters. Where Candace had been, a glowing golden woman now hung, perfectly formed, flesh gleaming smoothly metallic and rich in the bright lights. Every skin flaw and scar she had borne before had vanished, leaving her "flesh" absolutely smooth. Her body proportions had been somehow altered as well; what had been a nice enough figure had become a masterpiece of sculpted beauty, with breasts about two sizes larger than her previous slight figure, and a narrower waist. Her legs had seemingly grown longer, as had her arms, and even her fingers; the effect was that of a superbly proportioned, golden-hued dancer, standing on pointe in a pose.

With a violent shake of her head, she spat out the hose that had been thrust down her throat and lost the sensor web from her now bald skull. A tech who was on duty for such purposes came quickly up and disengaged the other lines from her nostrils and bottom, coiling all the harnesses back into the device that had been attached to Candace's body. The tech left Candace hanging from the padded ceiling manacles for a brief time, rocking back and forth with her head hanging onto her chest, then returned with a cable which he attached to the device that had controlled the net on her head. Lifting the other end of the cable, with a multi-pin male plug, he located something on her neck that had not been there before: a female data port. He plugged the cable in and activated the device; Candace's head instantly snapped up and her lids opened, revealing glittering golden orbs with pinprick pupils and no irises. A bright glow sprung up within the golden sclera, and her mouth fell open, letting a loud, solid mezzo-soprano hum emerge from her throat.

She was left there for a quarter of an hour while information was poured into her. The howl coming from her quickly tapered into silence, but still she remained connected to the data dump; however, more awareness and personality was filling her previously vacant face as the process continued. Even her eyes became more slightly more human as the pupils grew to a normal size; but those pupils remained two black circles in the middle of moist gold coins. When a timer alarm rang on the data device, the tech returned and tapped a few sequences into a keyboard attached to it, then disconnected the cable from Candace's neck. The port slid down into her golden skin and was enveloped out of sight. Stepping up on a block, the tech lowered the cable down until Candace's feet touched the floor, then opened the cuffs. Stepping down, he said, "Follow me," and dispassionately led the glowing, goldenly nude woman down a hall deeper into the building. Candace, now self-aware, saw that several azure cocoons hung from the ceiling. She tried to fight the compulsion that forced her to follow, but she was helpless to do so. Neither could she voice a word of any kind; her mouth had clicked closed, and her will could not force it open again. Frustration grew, but it was no help in her struggle. Bare feet ringing slightly on the tiled floor, she did as she was instructed and followed the tech down the halls and a stair, then another hall.

The trip ended in an office paneled in dark oak. Seated behind the desk, surrounded by communications equipment, computers and papers, was Cheryl Mackerson, the strange, attractive woman that had induced her to begin this now clearly bootless adventure. She was dressed today in a business suit of black and purple, her glossy black hair in the same tall upsweep wrapped with golden cords as she had worn before. She nodded a dismissal to the tech, then rose to circle Candace with a slight smile on her face. "One of my best acquisitions yet, if not the best," she murmured, and returned to the desk. Seating herself, she said, "And so your wish is granted, child, and you are now one of those golden people. How does it feel? As exciting as you thought?

"I'm sure you must now realize that I didn't tell you everything that was involved in the process. In fact, I helped you make your decision by hypnotizing you slightly, helped by a mild telepathic gift that I have. The beaker you drank was a substance that increased your susceptibility to a type of nanite technology that has been pumped into your body. The new color of what was your skin has nothing to do with radiation, but with those nanites. This is your flesh altered to a metallic form, of a hue and feel pleasing to my clients. The whole of your body is now suffused with the nanites, and they have converted you into a cyborg - a very attractive cyborg, too, as I remarked earlier. Anyway, there's enough lifeform left in you to qualify you as a cyborg, but that's our little secret. Your programming is qualified in independence, limited within the restrictions and guidelines of your master program, which I control. The conversion process erased your personality, but that was the purpose of the scan done on you. Your engrams, your thoughts and memories and personality, have been reinstalled in your new mind, along with the remaining software necessary to run and control your new body.

"But why have I done all this to you? Quite simply, because my business always needs new - artists, shall we say - to satisfy client demand. I run the most successful pleasure house on the planet. Those metallic women and men you saw are mine, remade into perfect practitioners of my trade. I convert them to my needs because the androids available are not nearly flexible enough to truly satisfy a client in search of pleasure. As a cyborg, you now have the endurance and controllability of a machine - as well as the longevity - with the intelligence and adaptability of a sentient lifeform. Your programming will assure that you do what the customer desires to pleasure them. And your human adaptability and personality will let you change that programming to increase the experience for them.

"You'll still need a few things, of course, to finish your transformation. Let me see; what would look best on you...?" Mackerson considered a moment, while Candace stood there in raging frustration, unable to force her gleaming body to express it. Then Mackerson touched a few buttons on her computer screen. Candace suddenly felt a strong prickle along her scalp, above and around her eyes. She sensed something cascading down her back to a little below her hips, then settle to brush softly against her golden flesh. Mackerson said, "We'll try that for now. Turn that way and look, dear," and pointed to the side. Candace automatically turned - she could not prevent it - and gasped within herself as she caught sight of her body in a mirror. Beyond the fact of her now astounding golden beauty, her head was crowned with thick royal blue tresses, vastly long and wavy and gleaming with purple and gold highlights, matched by perfect brows and lush lashes about her gold-coin eyes. A sudden relaxation of her face occurred, and she could see the astonishment on her visage. Without thinking, she raised her hands - and found them tipped with long, square-edged nails, polished a satiny imperial purple. Her toenails were tinted as well.

"Feels good to move again, doesn't it, dear? Once you learn how to control your body functions, you can change the color of your hair and nails at will," she heard Mackerson say, and she whirled to face her captor. Her golden face set into grim lines, and she tried to leap at Mackerson, tear her apart for what she had done - and found she could not move again. A deep compulsion prevented her from doing so. She tried once more, and again was stymied, and her face fell back into golden lines of frustration.

Mackerson smiled more, and Candace could see the perverse satisfaction in that expression. "I'll bet you want to rip my face off right now and find you can't, right, dear? Now I can't have that; it wouldn't be safe for me. I'd be stupid if I did not have my programmers place safeguards in your software to prevent such a thing. But there are other ways to guarantee your compliance as well." She reached for the computer once more. Candace felt a sudden smoky arousal penetrate her senses. It quickly built into a rocking orgasm that should have knocked her off her feet were she not simultaneously locked into rigidity. And then she came again, and again, and again.... It went on for perhaps thirty minutes, over and over again, then faded back to the first smoky pleasure and seeped deep into her soul.

Mackerson watched the expressions of lust and climax play over her captive's face at first, then turned to some papers until a bell rang on her console. She finally said, "That, dear Candace, is the reward system we have here. Why did all my people look so happy? Because they were doing what they were supposed to do, and the pleasure was continued, in addition to what they would experience with the client. It becomes rather addictive quite quickly, according to the test subjects. When you do what I desire, the pleasure continues - even increases occasionally; and when you earn enough credits, you can trade them in for another fifteen or thirty minutes of bliss. But do the wrong thing, or even think it, and-" She stabbed at another touch point, and the sensation of pleasure, indeed, nearly all sexual and emotional sensation entirely, vanished in Candace, leaving her rattlingly hollow. Mackerson again turned aside to work with papers on her desk; and it was the longest thirty minutes Candace had ever endured. It felt as if she had been emotionally gutted and everything that made her feel good ripped out through that gash; as if her soul had fled down a huge black chasm for some unknown place, leaving her with nothing but a cold wind blowing through her heart and mind. It seemed as if she could never be anything but despairingly empty again.

Mackerson finally looked up, and the smile on her face this time was definitely sadistic. "You see? No pain is needed here - merely the cessation of pleasure. Now, do you want that to happen? Or would you rather have this?" She tapped again, and the pleasure returned. Another five minutes passed, during which Candace felt in sheer, absolute bliss compared to what she had just experienced. With the return of feeling came the return of thought, at least in part; it was hard to get past the thrill of knowing some kind of positive emotion once more. What part of her could think raged against the evil of this woman, determined to fight her to the end. Then Cheryl looked up once more, and said, "It's your choice, dear. Either you can do what you're supposed to do, or you can be locked in a room and left to claw your life out through your belly, which you're quite strong enough to do. Do you want that last? You may answer."

Candace merely thought to fight the compulsion, and felt the echoing emptiness again. Without thinking anymore, reflexively, she shook her head and said, "No."

Mackerson nodded, her perverse smile flickering across her lips. "Then I think we have an understanding. And you'll find that this isn't so bad a life after all, as you'll shortly see." She tapped out another sequence, saying, "The controls are now independently installed within you; you are self-monitoring, and self-punishing, so that someone doesn't need to stand over you with a control unit." She keyed an intercom. "Jaris, come pick up the new recruit and take her to final processing, then her quarters, please." She turned back to Candace. "And so the best of fortune, dear. You'll know how to achieve it, and we'll both enjoy it. I know you will, if you know what's good for you."

Jaris, a blockish man with the same dispassionate attitude as the tech in the incubator room, led the meekly following Candace to a chamber where she was seated in a chair with a back that stretched over her head. A mag-field affixed her to the chair's surface; then she felt a pressure on the back of her neck and heard a solid click. Information began to cascade through her now cybernetic mind, filling empty voids that she had not realized existed, and she gathered that another data line had been plugged into her port. The session lasted more than an hour, during which Candace learned things she had never known before, and acquired skills she had never thought she would need. How the pleasure house was run; her rights and privileges within her programming limits (even freedom to walk the streets and purchase with a quite generous pay that she received, once a probationary period was over); how to apply makeup and how to dress; how to enthrall, seduce and please customers, male and female; social customs and graces; huge quantities of information about current affairs, science and all the arts that turned her into quite the sophisticate.... All this poured into her while the deep smoke of pleasure kept her alight and hungering for more. Then she sensed the line unhook and retract into the back of the chair. She was told that she would be informed when she must return for updates to her software, wrapped in a hooded cloak, and led to a floatcar.

A short ride brought her to the pleasure house she had sat in so recently. Taken inside, she was led up a few steps into a restricted hallway; a lift ride deposited her and Jaris on the fourth floor, and she was soon in her new quarters. It was a large, airy apartment with a skylight ceiling - except over the huge circular bed in the detached bedroom, where it was replaced by mirrors. Hung in green and silver, it was insanely luxurious, and all she could have wanted a week ago. Now, though - The pleasure coursing through her dropped noticeably; try as she might, she found herself quickly schooling her thoughts to other pathways.

Jaris said, "Your new home. Also your workplace; you will service clients who select you here. Your first day is your own to settle in; all your credit from your past life has been transferred here, along with a signing bonus of 50,000, and placed to your new name. You are now...." He consulted a notepadd, and added, "Ariel Sherman. Say that name."

A low-bump in her groin and mind forced her to smile. "Ariel Sherman. Yes, I understand." The pleasure bumped high again, then settled to its normal flow.

Jaris nodded. "Enjoy your new life," and he withdrew. Despair began seeping into Can - no, Ariel's mind as she was left totally alone, a strange thing when mingled with the sexual stimulation she was enduring. Apparently, some personal thoughts were left to her. That was no great compensation, though, for the loss of her freedom. This was a gilded cage, definitely, but a cage all the same...though it seemed, from what she had seen, as if there were no guards on the doors. Perhaps they didn't need any, what with the devious way- The warning instantly kicked in, and she groaned to herself, but shunted away from the path of thought. The programming was effective, apparently quite able to analyze the conscious thoughts that ran through her cybernetic mind and act on them.

But what if- Without pausing to think it out, she made a break for the door, gritting her teeth against the pleasure's sudden loss, and forced her feet to move as fast as possible. The black cloak swirled about her as she took off, but it quickly fell limp as she slowed, her soul filling with rasping steel wool. With every step, she became emptier; before she had reached the door, she was on the floor, crying tears that glinted on her golden integument and moaning for the pleasure, for anything, to return.

A knock came on the door; without waiting for an answer, it opened to reveal another woman, this one gleaming silver, dressed in a silk daygown of flower print. Sympathy washed over her face as she looked at the still cloaked form on the floor, and she knelt to place a hand on Ariel's shoulder. "I was sent to welcome you," she said in a throaty contralto, "and it looks like you need it."

Ariel looked up, tears still glistening on her golden cheeks. "Who are you?"

"They call me Syella," the strange woman smiled knowingly. "I'm told you're Ariel. You really have no choice now, you know; this is your life for as many years as you function. Accept it, and enjoy it; if you fight it, you'll end up like this, or worse. The nanites and programming tie into your psychological centers; if you keep on fighting, you can become suicidal. A new man tried to fight last week; he threw himself from the roof in the end."

"This is me now, isn't it?" Ariel said. A faint glow-

Syella nodded. "I've been here for two years now; I can barely remember what my life was like before that, and I've forgotten my true name. This is my life now, and it's a good life." She paused to close her eyes and sigh with a rapturous smile that stayed fixed on her face as she continued. "It's truly a good life, just not what we originally chose for ourselves. We have nearly as much freedom as we did before, and a lot more money, plus all the sexual gratification we could desire."

"That's some compensation, I suppose!"

"Oh, it is! And you'll find it that way too." Or you'll find out otherwise, was the unvoiced threat. "Come on," and she helped Ariel to her feet. "Let me help you get dressed, and I'll show you what the place looks like. There's another new woman down in the main hall right now; we'll meet up with her and introduce you." She led the now compliant Ariel to a room off the living room, outfitted as a dressing chamber, and showed her a huge closet filled with sumptuous dresses and gowns in her size. The selection astounded Ariel; she would never have dreamed that she would be supplied with clothes and jewels as expensive as she saw waiting for her. Syella saw her stare and smiled. "It surprises all of us; but Cheryl wants us to look our absolute best for the clients. She can afford it, no problem; she clears over eighty million credits a year, net."

Ariel felt her jaw drop. "Eighty million? How can she possibly do that much? And how do you know what she makes?"

"We've heard her say how much she makes; she doesn't keep that a secret, especially from the tax 'droids. As for how, look at yourself and your programming. Between our bodies and our knowledge, we're the most sophisticated creatures on this planet. Men and women can't help but be attracted to us. Take yourself for instance; I remember you here about a week ago, and I saw you studying us. I'll bet you're from offworld, as most of us in here are, and you'd never read anything about android sexual performers on Videra. Did you ask about who we were at the time? And Cheryl told you we were clients from another planet? You didn't know about the Pleasure House Act of 4712?"

"That's right. I just checked out this place on a friend's recommendation, and all I'd planned to do was come in for a drink. But I became so fascinated by you - by the men and women I'd seen that I stayed around. I guess that's what gave Cheryl her chance." As for the act Syella had mentioned, Ariel did not need to ask, for it had suddenly come to mind in her partially computerized brain. The act was a planetary law that forbid the owning and maintenance of large-scale pleasure operations with any but a cybernetic staff. "I suppose we qualify as cybernetic now, enough to satisfy the law."

"Only a few of us have ever tried to put it to the test by going before the authorities. I've told you about them already, or at least their brother. As far as we can tell, Cheryl's programming is complete; there's no way around it. None of us can get out of the house at night without her permission, and newcomers such as you aren't allowed out at any time for the first month without an escort. Your life is here now. But come on; let's talk about pleasanter things, like how you'll fit in, and I'll introduce you to your new sisters and brothers. Here." Syella reached into the closet and pulled out a beautiful caftan of brocade, a blue pattern of twining vines and fruit clusters on gold lamé. The collar was cut deep into the cleavage of the wearer, so that the inner rise of the woman's breasts could be seen even when the single frog catch was buttoned. The back of the gown was lengthened into a half-meter triangular train, capped at the end in a ball of gold and blue octopus fringe. She hung this on a hook in the wall between the closet doors, then found a pair of high-heeled gold leather mules for Ariel's feet. A diamond and sapphire bracelet, a matching ring with a sapphire the size of a large man's thumbnail, and clip cluster earrings were extracted from a stand-alone jewelry case in the back of the closet. "Put these on, and then we'll go downstairs to see the others. I'll even take you to the recreation center, where we can relax among ourselves."

"Recreation center??"

"Yes. Cheryl realizes that if we go stale, even our programming won't be able to please the clients. It's laid into our programming, in fact; we have to spend a few hours in the rec center each day. She does care for our welfare." Again Syella broke into a rapturous smile and sighed deeply for a moment, and Ariel guessed what was going on. She ground her teeth - but only for a few seconds - at the thought that she might become like this; then, as the erotic emptiness popped for a moment, she realized the truth: she already was.

She found that, as the day advanced into night, she needed to lie down on the bed for reasons that she thought would be non-existent as a mechanical lifeform; she was growing fatigued. Then the information came forward into her mind that this was a "sleep" mode that would let her recharge her power cells, scattered throughout her golden body in the tracks where her lymphatic system had been. She could choose to simply consume a meal of some form, which would be instantly converted into energy by the fusion furnace her stomach had become, but she chose to use the bed instead, as she wanted to simply find oblivion for a time. She automatically set an alarm in her mind for a "wakeup" time as she reclined against the silver velvet pillow shams, and reflexively pulled the silver satin covers over her; she suddenly sensed a warning countdown begin, then consciousness simply ceased for her.

She "woke up" at the chosen time the next day, and continued with Syella in her orientation, until midafternoon. At that time, a distant look came over her proctor's face, which confused Ariel for just a few seconds. Then it hit her: a sudden, almost irresistible imperative to return to her room and begin preparing for the evening. Syella said, just within Ariel's sphere of attention, "You feel it too? It's time for us to get ready. Hurry now; if you dally, you know what'll happen. I'll talk to you later." Without another word, she moved quickly toward the lifts. Ariel rushed to join her, and then went quickly down the hall to her own room.

Once inside, the imperative relaxed somewhat, but did not release her completely. She knew what to do without asking; the programming sent her straight into the washroom, to a large metal cylinder that stood open and waiting. Stepping inside closed the doors, and she sat down on a saddle that extruded from the wall, complete with a projection that fitted inside her labia and locked into a hidden socket within her now bio-metallic vagina; a second penetrated her anus and locked into another socket. The impulses of pleasure suddenly clicked up several notches, sucking what little breath she held in her adapted lungs out of her with its hot rush. She clenched her legs tight onto the saddle and raised her arms over her head, spread out fully in a rising ecstasy induced by the connection's signals. Several warm shower sprays of water engaged, spraying her over completely, followed by a soapy, pine-scented lather. Ariel was locked into the overriding programming, both command and sexual, flowing into her from the saddle connection; she waited a few moments to be completely covered over, then she was compelled to scrub herself down, every touch of her now slick hands over her integument sending shocks of heaven through her. This shower was not necessary to remove odors from her body, since she no longer shed heat through sweat glands, but it did remove accumulation of dirt, and the connection to the saddle with its sexual conditioning was Mackerson's method of guaranteeing that each cyborg took one every work night.

Ariel was given ten minutes of bliss while she soaped herself and scrubbed; during the process, she felt a rush of fluid engulf her cavities, which her programming told her was a disinfectant designed to kill any sexually transmitted diseases known to Republic science. Then a fresh spray of water rinsed her off, and a set of hot-air blowers dried her. Once the blowers deactivated, the doors opened with a slight hiss, and Ariel felt the connector within her unhook, then the bump in the saddle slide out of her labia. She immediately hopped off the saddle and went through the rooms to her dressing chamber, where she felt a corner of her mind release - not completely, but enough to allow her the ability to choose what she thought she would look good in.

As for needing to make that choice, of course, Ariel had no say in the matter, but she was being allowed to determine the look she would wear, within certain guidelines. The collection of evening clothes collected for her were tight and revealing, while not going to the extreme of letting the cyborg's superb golden body hang out to gross excess. Beyond this, it was a matter of suiting her own tastes in color and cut. She settled upon a gown, and quickly slid into it, then sat down at the mirrored table to begin working on her shining aureate face with programmed expertise.

The great hall of the Land of Fantasy was much the same as it had been a week before, with colorful, celebrating groups talking, drinking and seducing. Several new faces were added, as happened every night. Tonight, a man of well over two meters height gazed in wonder about him. His dusky skin covered a fairly normal frame, suggesting a man who took care of himself but was not obsessed with a health regimen. His face, however, was both handsome and full of character, ruling out the bland beauty of so many rich tourists coming here for something to sate their jaded sexual appetites. Hazel eyes, large and clear and intelligent, gazed out from beneath thick brows and curly auburn hair, above a darker brown crimbeul mustache and goatee beard slightly flecked with white. His evening attire was rich, the fabric and cut suggesting wealth and taste.

He had heard of the Land of Fantasy for years, of course, being native to Videra, but had never chosen to visit it before; he had rarely lacked for female companionship, even in his student days. He had broken up with his most recent girlfriend, though, and was at loose ends for the night. He had seen most of the entertainments in his area, and all of his friends were busy for the night. The day had been long, and he needed relaxation, so he finally chose to stop into the most famous pleasure house on his planet and see if their reputation was deserved. Even then, he was not necessarily in the mood for intimate companionship; but, if events directed him that way, then.... Now he considered what to do - to walk about and see if any of his friends were here tonight, or to listen to the pair of singers plying their talent in one section of the hall. Then he saw the bar, and obeyed primal instincts.

He came up to the rail and gave his order, then began looking about again. But only for a moment, for as he turned his head, his attention was seized by the woman beside him, a woman that made him stare beyond propriety. And yet he could not help himself; she was so beautiful, it astounded him. Golden was her body, a spectacularly delicious gold that made him desire her before he realized what he was doing. She wore a strapless satin gown of deep emerald green, close cut to her body and revealing a lush, sensuous figure; it was split to the center of her thighs, and exposed a crossed pair of athletic legs in tight, knee-high boots with long stiletto heels. Sapphire blue hair was piled into a tall upsweep over her head, studded with emerald pins in gold; a matching chain of emeralds was also pinned in, and hung free behind her coiffure. A thick layer of golden bangles and diamond-and-gold bracelets covered her forearms, and several large cocktail rings shone on each hand. A matching necklace of diamonds and emerald clusters circled her throat. She was smoking a long blue cigarette in an even longer holder of gold, emeralds and diamonds, blowing clouds and rings of smoke lazily into the air over the bar as she looked into the mirror, with a tall amber drink resting before her on the bar.

It appeared that she glanced at him in the mirror and noticed his fascination. A small smile quirked her green-tinted lips, and she turned and lifted a thin eyebrow over her dramatically colored lids and strange golden eyes. "Do I know you, lord?"

"Uh - No, lady; and I apologize for staring."

She laughed richly. "If I dress like this, I must expect to collect some stares. Have a seat, please, lord." She gestured to the stool beside her. "My name is Ariel, and this is my home and place of business. Do you desire company tonight?"

"I...." he fumbled. "I wasn't sure if I did.... But you have already changed my mind, Ariel. My name is Adam Sandhara."

"Would you prefer a couch instead, Adam?" She waved toward several open banquettes. "They're more comfortable. Let me get your drink, and we can talk over there." She collected Adam's glass from the bartender, telling him to place it on her bill, and led the way to the table.

Across the room, Cheryl Mackerson sat with her companion of the night, one of her cyborgs - a favorite that had pleasured her deeply and inventively many times. She saw Ariel rise from her seat at the bar and take a customer to one of the privacy tables, and smiled over her flute of sparkling Centauran wine. This new one was going to be magnificent for business. She had noticed five others, one of them a woman, moving toward Ariel just as this client took hold of her hand. She would have to alter the price scale on this one's time; such opportunities rarely came along.

Adam proved an intriguing conversationalist on many subjects, both of local and interstellar interest. He was a designer of miniaturized cybernetic systems, considered the best in the quadrant by most of his clients, but he was far from an obsessed boffin that was too caught up in his profession to pay attention to the world. As much as Ariel was trained by her programming in knowledge of wines, he proved even more knowledgeable, and he was well versed in the local art scene. Ariel found it truly enjoyable to talk with him, not just because her programming forced her to enjoy his company; she was sure inside her mind, in a way that she could not explain, that this was a true emotion. So, when it was time to issue the invitation to come up to her apartment, she had decided that this would be a better thing than she had feared, at least in this case.

She had been tracing patterns on his arm with a golden hand, shielded behind the dark translucent privacy field around their table. Now she leaned over and whispered breathily in Adam's ear that she knew somewhere even more comfortable than this table. She heard him draw a deep breath before he smiled knowingly and nodded. He rose, offering his arm, and she took it, holding on lovingly as she led the way to her rooms.

In the locked seclusion of her satin-hung apartment, she began whispering words of desire to him, kissing him softly, working her hands beneath the open front of his dress tunic with the skill programmed into her, but also with interest and desire of her own. Before long, Adam was responding in kind. Each touch sent a flame of pleasurable desire coursing through her, spurring her on to greater inventiveness, quickly learning what pleasured him and what did not. They soon fell onto her bed, finding a figure of tantric synergy that brought them to peaks of enjoyment. He was deft, warm and gentle, although he believed that he was dealing with only an android, and strove to give back as much as he was receiving. Ariel had never believed since she was dropped in the house that life as a courtesan could be so delightful for the seller as well as the buyer, and she was inspired to return kind for kind. At last, pushed beyond all the techniques Ariel had been given for prolonging and intensifying his pleasure, Adam was sated, and lay back exhausted on the satin sheets of her bed. But he kept her in his arms, and she was content, to her own surprise, to just remain there herself. Setting an alarm in her mind, as her programming allowed her to do, she drifted into sleep mode beside this fascinating man.

Adam Sandhara was the first of Ariel's clients, a long line of clients that stretched over more than two years.

Many were the tears she still shed in the first days at the loss of her freedom, until she found herself becoming increasingly "exhausted" by the indulgence, and less able to cry actual tears. Questioning Syella explained it to her: the nanites were gradually settling into her body and finishing their work. When she had "hatched" out of the silken blue cocoon, only 70% of her body had been processed into its cyborg state, sufficient for Mackerson's purposes; but the conversion process went on for several more weeks, until all but eight percent of her would become silicon-based. Only certain areas of her mind responsible for personality, memory and sexual response, as well as other body areas unspecified by Mackerson, would be left untouched. Those organic areas were maintained and preserved by the nanites alongside her converted body parts, using food for raw materials and diverting the needed elements to the appropriate areas.

One effect of the conversion was that she no longer needed the lubrication of tears for her bio-electronic eyes. So her tear ducts had been destroyed by the insidious devices, replaced by reservoirs of a dry polymer lubricant that was synthesized from alcoholic esters. She was no longer able to cry, though she possessed the emotional capability and need for crying. But Mackerson and the programming of her nanites also used this lack of lachrymation as another prod against their hosts; the crying impulse was diverted into the cyborgs' power systems, causing a significant increase in power usage. Continued "crying" would plunge them into a state of deep torpor, eventually triggering the sleep-recharge cycle to begin. This was a warning, the cyborgs had discovered. Three days in a row of doing this, and the control program was notified; the pleasure impulses would be reversed sharply, bringing the "guilty" cyborg to a state of near suicidal depression; and this would not cease for a full day, while the victim was locked in an empty, padded room in restraints to wait it out. None had ever committed the "sin" a fourth time once the conversion was complete.

In many other ways, Ariel qualified as a living mechanical more than a living organic. While her personality remained present, her thought processes became lightning-fast and her memory nearly infallible; the majority of her brain was converted to a highly portable and powerful computer. Her senses were sharpened to an exquisite degree, enabling her to see in almost nonexistent light without aid, hear very soft noises beyond the range of even dogs and cats, and so on. Her physical endurance was also augmented by the conversion of her muscles to fibers of composite dumarium; a mile run would have been simplicity, with no loss of stamina, and an ancient marathon run would only reduce her energy reserves by 25%, while the speeds she could reach would enable her to pace a rapidly moving floatcar. Her mechanical strength had grown correspondingly as well, making her able to bend solid steel bars with no effort. Of course, she needed no exercise, and her programming prevented her from using that strength and speed for fighting and escaping, not only for the safety of the clients, but of Mackerson as well....

Six nights out of the week, the programmed imperative would trigger, and she would be forced to stop whatever she had been doing, so that she might transform her already exquisite appearance for the business to be done. Her own thoughts were partially subsumed into the desires of the mistress of the house, and those of the clients she met in the great hall below. As the nights passed, men and women both came to Ariel, and paid high fees to Cheryl Mackerson's account for her favors and skills. Ariel quickly became the favorite artist in the house, with more potential customers every night than she could fulfill, and a formal appointment book was opened for her. No more than four people per night were ever allowed, unless a "special party" was scheduled for her. Mackerson had been wealthy before; now, as she raised Ariel's rates in the upper fee-capability ranges to 5,000 credits for a three-hour session - unknown heights for the pleasure houses of Videra - she looked likely to clear between six and twelve million more each year.

All the business made Ariel rich as well. Androids were given limited rights of determination and property in Republic society, and Mackerson maintained the illusion of the cyborgs' status to preserve her cover. The clients of the house believed they were dealing with such sophisticated devices, and so it was common for patrons to pay Ariel's fees, 15% of which went to her account, and tip her lavishly as well. Before long, she became moderately wealthy in her own right, and used her money to improve her appeal in the salon. Courses in all the university disciplines were available to her by direct link through her data port; she began studying the deeper mysteries of art, literature, fashion, history and philosophy, eventually qualifying in mere weeks for a master's degree in the humanities.

Her personal appearance soared as well. Mackerson had hired good designers and cosmetologists, but now Ariel began patronizing the best on the planet, something few of the other cyborgs bothered to do, rather saving their money for personal baubles or sessions in Mackerson's "rewards chamber." Ariel, however, realized that improving herself made her even more desirable to the clients, and pleasing the client was All in the philosophy of the house, unless it was changed to pleasing Mackerson. Her personal jewel collection became glitteringly beautiful, with many matched sets that coordinated with her gowns; often, she would commission a costume and jewelry together, or even several ensembles fitted around a single set of jewels to give her variety in her appearance.

Long evening gloves became her signature, something that had been rarely seen in modern fashion, but had been very popular hundreds of years ago according to her studies. As more of the female customers saw her wearing them, they started commissioning them from their own designers, and the style reawakened across the Republic. So did her taste for strapless mermaid-skirted gowns in rich jewel hues and glistening metallics. Many of them flared out wildly behind her, few less than a meter in length; the image was of an old fashioned glamour that had long disappeared. Long, broad stoles of taffeta or fur, another lost confection of fashion, added beautiful grace notes. Combined with her hand wear and the meter-long, heavily jeweled holders she smoked her cigarettes in, she became the most glamourous, fascinating, enthralling "woman" in the quadrant. She was unbelievably exotic (the reason that the cyborgs were so in demand in the first place) and sensationally alluring, and her sisters began resenting her slightly for her demand - or, with presence of mind, began developing their own individual styles.

Because of all this popularity, Ariel became one of the best known lifeforms on Videra. Holographers for magazines and the news services haunted her when she left the house, day or night, and her image and endorsement became as sought after as a sens-film star's. Even more credit fell to her account (though Mackerson always took the lion's cut as her "agent") from these activities.

She had many repeat clients; of these, Adam was her preferred and most faithful patron. As six, then twelve, then eighteen months passed, he became so fascinated that he turned into a regular customer. He visited the Land of Fantasy at least three times a week and paid for exclusive rights to Ariel each night - an expensive undertaking at 18,000 credits the night, though he could well afford it as one of the richest businessmen in three sectors - and it finally became clear that he was hopelessly infatuated with her. She wondered as she lay nestled against his naked body where he had learned to be so tender a lover. And yet she knew that he had power and passion in him as well. He would come to her on the occasional night filled with frustration, and begin kissing her with an anger that he was barely able to control unless she helped him. Sometimes she was tempted not to help him, to let him express that rage. She knew so much about him in his tenderest moods; what was he like when he was in a tempest? But she also sensed that he would loathe himself afterwards if she let him go that far and release his anger on her in sexual "vengeance," and she never yielded to the temptation.

When it happened to her, she never knew in the dozens of decades to come, but she had begun to look forward to his visits, rejoicing inside when his name was in the appointment book and pining quietly when it was not. Syella's words of months ago were right, and she had grown used to her condition - and conditioning - but the great salon always seemed a little brighter when Adam walked into it beside the appointments usher. And she would smile in a way that had nothing to do with her programming, or frown in concern when he stalked up in anger over some triviality. She felt her mood alter to match or counter his, and put forth all the empathy and skill she had been programmed with to work with him, because she was happiest when he was happy....

And before she realized it, Ariel found that she was as lost on Adam as he was on her, and began despairing over what to do; she wanted him, but she was unable to keep him. Mackerson did not tolerate any expression of true love in her "employees," which they were quite able to do - a tradeoff for using cyborgs instead of androids - and Ariel had heard stories in the house of what had happened to the few inmates that had let themselves get so lost, and betray the emotion in Mackerson's sphere of awareness. She began wondering how to tell him that he must let her go, and hated herself for both their sakes for needing to do so, and longing for him to come to her at the same time, so that she had no sense of what to do. On the one night a week that was allowed to her as a so-called "rest night," she would lay on the luxurious chaise lounge in her apartment, worrying and letting herself drop into jags of violent, depressed crying - not a wise thing for her to do.

Then one night, over two years after they had first met downstairs, as they lay in each other's arms in the semi-darkness, Adam sighed raggedly. As she rolled over to him, glinting goldenly even in the gloom, he said, "God, Ariel, what am I going to do here? I know you're nothing but an android programmed to give pleasure, but I'm so far in love with you that I can't stand to be without you any more."

It was the first time any client had observed anything specifically on her state of being, and she automatically said, "But I'm not an android," then stiffened in surprise as she realized what she had said.

She felt Adam's arms stiffen too; then he spun her around and asked, "What did you say?"

She looked in shock at him. "I don't believe I did say that; I never knew I could tell you," she whispered, "I never dreamed it was possible. But it's true, Adam. I'm not an android, though it's close; I'm a cyborg. I was a woman visiting this planet, and I saw some of the people here, not knowing what they were. I told the owner of this house that I'd like to be like them, and she did it to me, and programmed me to be a pleasure worker."

"But that's illegal! How could you let her do it, Ari?"

"I didn't know what she was doing!" Ariel yelped; "I told you, I thought these were real rich people, and I let my greed get away with me. I remember now that the tech that turned me into this asked if it was my choice to do it, and I said yes. A court would probably call that informed consent, or close enough as never mind."

Adam sat up, staring. "And you want to stay like this? You enjoy it?"

She shook her head no and tried to answer, felt the warning drop of pleasure chilling her will, then quickly said, "Touch me."


"I said touch me; make love to me while I answer you. It's the only way I can manage to answer you, if you're making love to me while I talk."

He gaped in surprise for a second, then began to tenderly grope and caress her golden breasts. The sensation made up for what she had lost, and she moaned, "Keep going!" She climbed into his lap, back to his chest, and rocked on him, holding his hands on her breasts carefully but with machine strength, and encouraging him to grow hard and erect again; and as they worked each other, she gasped out the story of the sexual compulsion laid into her programming, of her love for him, everything. As they came together in one of their stunning climaxes, Adam was partly lost in wonder at what had happened, and also caught in hatred of the woman who had done this to his love. They fell back onto the sheets again, and he breathed, "And there's no way you can fight this compulsion?"

"Not...not easily," Ariel panted. "Even now it's trying to drag me down; I have just enough glow left to get this out. But it's true what Syella said my first day. My past is almost gone to me; I just barely remember my life as Candace Avorsen anymore. It may have been worth it; I've met you, and I love you so much. But I'm still under Mackerson's control."

"Hold me, love, and don't say a word more." He wrapped her in his arms, buried his face in the azure silk of her hair, and set to thinking as they drifted toward sleep together.

Before he left that morning, Adam kissed her fully on the lips, then reached for his belt pouch. Ariel watched him, loving and despairing at the same time, until she saw him extract an instrument from the pouch and bend toward her belly. "What's that?"

"It's an instrument for taking samples of silicon substrate for contamination checking. I didn't have time to go back home and change last night, so I brought along an evening tunic, and never bothered to take my tool pouch off. I can't tell you more than that." He pressed it against her golden integument and touched a stud; she felt a scrape against her skin, and a slight sting of pain, the first she had known in over two years. When she looked at the spot as he drew away, she saw a set of whitish scratches that weeped a translucent greenish fluid for a few seconds, then quickly healed over, returning to the seamless golden surface she had borne for so long. She saw him carefully recap the instrument and slip it into his pouch. Puzzled, she asked, "What did you do that for? Why are you taking samples out of my hide?"

He just shook his head. "You'll find out eventually - hopefully within a few days, if I'm lucky." He slapped his palm and credit band on the payment book beside her table, kissed her deeply, and left her with a mystery as deep as her love. And the puzzle continued for the next four nights, with Adam canceling two appointments, something he had never done before. Ariel was not given a chance to wonder about his absence while nominally on the clock, for she was given fresh clients from the sizable waiting list maintained for her. In her free time, she speculated endlessly about what he was doing and worried about the reasons for his absence. In that time, though, she never gave great thought to what he did for a living....

Finally, on the fifth night, Adam was back, his eyes shining brightly in jubilation. She waited for him by a piano in the middle of the room as he was brought over by the usher. As usual, her gown was cut tightly but tastefully, revealing her delicious golden figure. She was completely taken aback by the intensity of the joy in his eyes. "What's with you?" she murmured as the usher moved back to the entrance hall.

"I'll tell you upstairs," he said. "Can we go straight there without attracting attention?"

"Yes, of course, that's nothing unusual. Some clients don't like foreplay." She turned for the lift, Adam close behind.

Continued in Part 2....

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