By Silverhope

Continued from Part 1

Part 2

In her rooms, Adam directed her to sit down while he pulled out a large flask from inside his evening coat. Staring at it, Ariel said, "What's that?"

"What I believe," Adam replied, placing the flask on a table, "is the solution to at least part of your problem. Don't say a word for now, just drink this."

"But what is it??"

"A gift from me to you. Trust me, and trust our love; it's perfectly safe."

Ariel gave him a skeptical glance, but he seemed quite sincere. Without another demure, she reached for the flask with a red-gloved hand and drank it off. Grimacing at the taste, she said, "For a man who knows your wines, love, this is not the greatest apéritif in the world. And tell me how does it solve any of my problems?"

"You'll find out in about an hour, I think, after I do a few more things here. Would you mind slipping down your top, please?" When she had complied, dropping her red-and-black leather halter gown to her waist, he attached two adhesive sensor pads to her back at the base of her spine and the nape of her neck, another over her heart area, then pulled a computer padd from his jacket and keyed a sequence. "That does it for now," he finally said; "which means that we have to find a way to improve the time. Any suggestions?"

"A few, though I'd prefer an explanation. But...." She rose from her chair and wrapped her arms around Adam's neck and began to nuzzle him.

He had noted the time she drank his substance, and so did not let their lovemaking go as far as completely undressing and coupling in bed. Instead, they simply eased the clothes from each other's chest and pressed together, fondling gently and lovingly, each finding pleasure in the touches and kisses they rained on the other. Then one hour later, as they nestled before her fireplace on a loveseat, he suddenly asked, "Do you want to be free of Cheryl Mackerson, love?"

A stab of fear shot through Ariel, but she answered, "You know I do, love; but how do I even talk...?" Then she fell silent, for she realized she was talking about it, and all she felt was fear and her love for him. The emptiness that permeated her as a punishment for rebellion was gone!

"What are you feeling now?" he quickly said, straightening up where he sat.

"Not what I was when I said something like that before!" she whispered. "It's gone!! The constant pleasure's gone too, but I can live without it! Something's buffering the shock!!"

"Thank God, it worked," he sighed, and his smile suddenly became much brighter. "I've freed you from her control!"

"But how? Was it that stuff I drank? What was in it?"

"A different kind of nanites from what you were first infected with by Mackerson. Hers were rather crudely made by current standards, it should be noted, but they were effective enough. Mine, however, took far less, used her nanites as building blocks in this case, don't need incubation of the body in a chrysalis of some kind like that blue goop you sweated out, and have totally replaced her damnable stuff. I wish I could restore your humanity to you, love, but that's beyond me; you're a cyborg for the rest of your exceedingly long days. However, I can give you back total control over your life, and I have.

"Her programming was excellent, and reached straight into your motivational centers, triggering the reactions she wanted for the conditions she set. That's what took the most time to override; the redesign of the nanites was simple compared to rewriting the operating system. It wasn't the loss of the sex impulses that was inhibiting you so powerfully; it was her programming actually diddling with your emotional controls, and the pleasure stimulus just added to give a more noticeable impetus. I suppose that some of you may have become addicted to the almost constant stimulation, it's one of the most driving things in human instinct; but I'm not a psychologist. I tried to slip a buffer into the system programming to help on that. Also, your memories were merely blocked, the block growing in strength as time passed for some people, leaving you open to psychological control on another level by emphasizing your life now instead of your past. All that's been changed now, Ari; the sensor pads fed you a new operating system, purging all of her controls while retaining your memories and personality. You're free."

"I can walk out of here now if I chose to?"

"You can do whatever you damn well want to now," he smiled, but with a little fear in his eyes. "You can even take back your old identity, become Candace Avorsen again and return to your world...though...though Ariel is a beautiful name," he finished shyly.

To return to my old life.... Reflexively, Ariel reached for that dream that had been denied her for so long. Then she looked in Adam's face, and in her released heart, and smiled gently at the man who had set her free, holding only her heart in bondage. "No, Adam, I won't return to Quintanus; I love you too much to leave you now. Anyway, Cheryl destroyed my old life. She transferred all my credit to the name of Ariel Sherman through laundering links, and forged resignations and cancellation notes; my job, my apartment, everything is gone, and I suppose my stuff was sent to my sister when I disappeared. I can get my stuff back by contacting her, but the life itself in unrecoverable without tons of work.

"And, in the end, this is me now, what with all the changes I've made to myself by being stuffed into this life. This is the woman that you love, Adam, not the one that I was. Candace was never interested greatly in learning, in the finer arts and whatever beyond her own ambitions; but I've grown by being compelled into this life. Who knows? Maybe this was a good thing in disguise...very well disguised, but just maybe. At least I found you in the process. When that's thrown into the balance, it isn't that bad a fate."

"But surely you're not going to stay here! Now that you're no longer under her control, you don't have to sell your body anymore."

She leaned over and wrapped him in her arms. "Oh, I don't have any intention of staying here, lover...though it would be a great temptation to hang around and find a way to bring Cheryl Mackerson to justice."

Adam grimaced. "She sounds like she's immune to normal justice; from what you've said, she's insulated herself by that bogus declaration, though her hypnotism could constitute a case of loss of freedom of choice, and she's probably an unregistered telepath. She's so rich from you people, too, that she may have the law paid off completely. Wealthy people are usually much immune to normal legal means. She'd have to be brought to book by outside methods."

Ariel suddenly went very still, and a strange darkness slid into the gold-coin orbs of her eyes. "Maybe that's preferable after all.... Do you have any more of those things, darling, or can you make more?"

"I can make more," Adam said, equally quiet after a moment's thought. It didn't take a genius to realize what Ariel had started considering.

"Can you give them to a normal person, and can they be injected instead of taken orally?"

"Yes and yes, though we'd have to get the subject's cooperation. The conversion would take longer, too, without the building blocks of the previous nanites to work on. Maybe four or six hours. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Sure enough...but it'll take planning. Love me for now, and we can talk about it afterwards."

"If we're still conscious afterwards. Making love to you always sends me so high that I want to collapse when we're done." But he willingly brushed his hand over her breasts again, and began kissing the firm yet strangely pliant metallic flesh with purpose. Soon, they had both shimmied out of their remaining clothes, and Adam had swept Ariel into his arms and carried her to her bed. Their plans were forgotten in the pleasure of their lovemaking; and it was true lovemaking now, the free joining and celebration of two free individuals who had found their life's partners, both body and soul. Ariel realized this as they spiraled higher and higher, and the joy of her new state delighted her almost as much as Adam's body. She was able to time her own body's release; and, as she sensed him nearing the peak that he could maintain, she let herself go as well, until they cried out together in a shared orgasm of delight and love. They collapsed together, Adam in true sleep and Ariel in a needed, self-induced maintenance sleep, until four in the morning, when she roused him and they began to discuss what to do.

Cheryl Mackerson laid down her cigarette holder and contemplated her small empire with contentment. She sat at a banquette in the Land of Fantasy, sheathed in a tight white gown that set off the dark of her raven hair nicely, and the large stole of crimson satin gave a grace note of color that went with the dragon-lady nails she favored, while the white fingerless gloves allowed her to display those nails. (Without realizing it anymore, she was heavily influenced by Ariel's trend setting in fashion, but she never would have acknowledged it if she had known.) A heavy golden collar set with diamonds and rubies circled her neck, matched by large earrings, and her makeup was evening perfect as she looked about her. She was content in the illusion of her power and invulnerability as she thought of all she had wrought.

The Land of Fantasy was the best idea she had ever come up with. It had started as a good idea forty years ago, when the concept was based on androids and she had planned merely to deliver a higher-quality service than any other house on the planet. Of course, making money in the process would welcome as well. However, backing to begin on the scale she wanted had been impossible to find; all the capital sources said that the market for pleasure houses on Videra was overcrowded. Undeterred, she had scraped together what assets she could and opened the house--then discovered that the people she had contacted were correct. It was a constant struggle to survive in the Videran market, and she could not afford to move anywhere else. She was on the edge of bankruptcy within three years, barely clearing enough to pay bills and keep food on her table.

Then she had discovered the cybernetic technician who was looking for investors himself, for a nanite-based process of tissue regeneration. He had mentioned in passing that, with the right programming, the nanites could control a person's entire body and mind processes, giving the possibility of life preservation when no other option existed. The idea had settled in Cheryl's mind that night, and she was desperate enough to give into its seductive power. So was the technician, who had been a bit shady in his methods in the first place. Cheryl began diverting every spare credit she could to his research, and he finally completed the breakthrough. Kidnapping several derelicts from the unseen back streets of Videra, they were converted into the first cyborg artists of the house, then discarded as more people from more sophisticated sources were acquired.

Able to adapt actively to any situation the client desired, and far more versatile in personality than an android, the cyborgs began to give the Land of Fantasy the reputation it needed. Within a year, Cheryl and her new partner were comfortably off; in another year, they were reasonably rich. By the end of the next year, the partner was dead, under mysterious circumstances, and documents found in his wall safe deeded his entire interest over to Cheryl Mackerson. He had been the brake on her plans; now, with total control, Cheryl began expanding, until she had created the empire she now controlled.

Dreams were all well and good, and that was what she had started out with when she devised the plan for this place, but financial wealth was even better, and Cheryl was now quite wealthy indeed. If she wanted to, she could retire now with no fears for her future. Of course, why retire when you could get even richer...? With modern medical techniques, she would keep her youth and beauty for maybe sixty or seventy more years. And it was so easy, except for the matter of finding more men and women to convert for work as artists. Cheryl had become expert in finding a few every week, as well as covering up her tracks in the kidnapping, and so she was able to constantly expand. Life as a businesswoman was indeed satisfying.

This night had been satisfying in other ways, too. She glanced with contentment at her current choice from the cyborgs, a powerfully built specimen with the face of an Apollo and "flesh" of the sun, which was returning to his duties. One thing about the cyborgs: they were untiring, and would give you as much as your desire--and body--could take. She must have ridden him for two hours, or been serviced by him, and she was sated in both body and well as a little sore. Perhaps it was time to head home for the night and take an analgesic before bed. With resolution, she finished the last of her drink, picked up her cigarette again, and set off for the door.

Across the room in a semi-secluded booth, Ariel was keeping covert watch on her erstwhile creator while she smoked her own cigarette; knowing her appointments for the night, she had called them up privately from a commbooth in the city and cancelled them all. In contrast to her normal glittering appearance, trying to shift attention away from herself, she wore a simple black tube dress, with no jewelry or accessory other than a black enamel cigarette holder, a purse, and a black silk stole. She had bound her hair into a thickly braided chignon, tight to her head. However, her face was so recognizable now that all the guests in the room that saw her knew who she was. Most of them were aware that she was normally available by appointment only, so only a few clients came to inquire about her availability. She politely fended them off with a story that she was waiting for one of those appointments, and none had questioned her afterwards.

Watching Mackerson as she made her way across the wide hall, she laid down her cigarette and plucked a digicomm passed her by Adam from her evening clutch. Pressing a quikode and receiving a fast answer, she said, "She's on her way."

"Understood," came Adam's voice; "I'm ready. Out."

"Out." Ariel replaced the comm and arose from her seat, leaving her things behind her, making for the service doors and the rear of the house. A cyborg guard was posted on the rear door; he challenged her: "Where are you going?"

"Emergency errand for Lady Mackerson," Ariel said as she slowed; "she's sent me out to get something from her house. I'll be back."

The name of Mackerson was enough for the guard; obedience to the mistress's commands was ingrained into the cyborgs' programming. The guard was also used to seeing Ariel pass back and forth on jobs and trips, so the cover story was convincing enough. "Go on then," he said, and stepped aside. Ariel nodded and sped out the door.

Outside, and out of sight of the guard, she hiked up her skirt, revealing a pair of tight black leather pants and black flats on her feet, and sprinted with machine speed through the gardens toward the front of the vast house. All the way, she worried about what Adam might be going through trying to stalk and capture Mackerson, the main weak point of the plan. Ariel had no idea what effect Mackerson's telepathy might have on Adam's mind, or what defensive measures she carried on her. Ariel needed to be there as fast as possible, to help him out, or to defend him if he needed the assistance. Finally breaking around the last corner, out into the floatcar parking lot, she scanned about her quickly, but her augmented eyes discovered no person standing above the roof level of the vehicles; locking on the reserved location of Mackerson's floater, she took off again, unwinded and unable to break a sweat.

She need not have feared. Adam was crouched in the shadows of the car, cradling the unconscious Cheryl Mackerson in his arms; the air smelled to Ariel's amplified nose of ionization, suggesting a stun beam. Ariel quickly knelt to kiss him, then opened the door and helped maneuver Mackerson's inert body into the vehicle, propping her up in the seat as if she had fallen asleep. Adam pulled a square of cloth from his jacket pocket and passed it to her then. She rapidly opened it into a micropore survival cloak, foldable to a pocket size for transportability, while large enough to turn into a one-person tent if needed. She wrapped her golden form in the black fabric to conceal herself from the human gate guards and climbed into the back of the vehicle, laying on the floorboards, while Adam took the driver's seat. Calmly, so as not to attract attention, he activated the antigravs and drove off. At the gates, the guards saw a stranger driving Mackerson's vehicle and hailed him to stop, but he grinned winningly with a bob of the head toward Mackerson, and told them, "Her Ladyship's had too much to drink, and one of the people inside asked me to drive her home." The guard staring at him grinned back and waved him off, and Adam drove on into the darkened Vidran streets, following Ariel's directions.

Ariel knew the location of Mackerson's estate, having went there several times to sign contracts. The huge floatcar pulled into the house's garage within minutes of departure, and Ariel and Adam carried the still unconscious woman upstairs to her bedroom, where the next stage of the process was begun....

When Mackerson finally awoke, she found herself sitting in a chair, still in her white gown. She groggily tried to rub her eyes, and raised her head up, finding herself staring into a mirror. For a moment she did not recognize herself, thinking some alien in golden flesh stood before her; then recognition slowly penetrated, and she tried to shriek her dismay. Her flesh had been transmuted, even as all her cyborgs' bodies had been, and that probably meant that she was now a cyborg herself.

A familiar woman's voice, dripping with sarcasm, said from behind, "How does it feel, Cheryl? As exciting as you thought?" Mackerson tried to spin to see who had spoken, but was unable to move more than her head, up and down and slightly to the sides. The voice said, "I'll take pity on you for now, dear," and then footsteps came from the far side of the room, closer and finally into view. Mackerson's eyes popped as she recognized the woman she had renamed Ariel Sherman, standing there with a grim smile on her face. More steps echoed, and the man that seemed to be with her all the time appeared beside her, holding a personal compadd in his hand. He tapped out a few sequences on the screen, and Mackerson felt her mouth free up. The first thing she said was, "Why? How??"

"Need you ask why?" Ariel said scornfully. "How many people have you done this to, woman? How many did you approach in apparent friendship and turn into slaves? I'll admit, our greed helped you out, but that gave you no right to do to us what you did. As to how, you made a mistake somewhere in your programming, of not forbidding us to tell anybody that we're actually cyborgs. You must have believed that all your other safeguards would prevent us from ever spilling the truth to another person, and never thought that we could tell it if someone asked us a direct question. I managed to get the story out to Adam, my lover here, and he found a way to defeat your nanites' control of my mind. I can't be restored to real humanity, but I control myself again. Then we decided to execute a little justice of our own; as we saw it, it was the only way to bring you to answer for your crimes."

"And so you've become me, my dear creation," Cheryl said sardonically, though her eyes still betrayed her fear and agitation. "How does that feel?"

"It feels like I have slime on my soul. But I can live with that by knowing that you've created your last 'borg. And I'll try to repay this little dose of karma by releasing everyone in the Land of Fantasy from their programming. None of us can ever be totally human again, but we'll have control of our own lives once more."

"What few 'borgs you have ready to hatch," Adam said to her, "we'll reprogram with my control codes--which are no codes at all, except the needed operating system to run their bodies, and for them to live their lives as what they've been made into."

"And what about me, then? It appears that you don't have that state of grace in mind for me."

"No, we don't," Ariel said grimly. "We have something else planned for you. And so, to pull it off, we've used your control programs instead of ours. Shut up, and stand up." And Cheryl, much to Ariel's shamed enjoyment, jerked to her feet, clearly trying to fight her programming and unable to do so. "Now strip." Mackerson began to shuck off her gown, while Ariel did the same. Then Ariel picked up a bag resting on the floor and beckoned Mackerson to follow. She went to a back bedroom in the huge house that looked rarely used, and directed Cheryl to stand in the middle. She extracted several cans of flesh-colored spray paint from the bag, donned an all-covering canvas "clean" suit from Adam's factory, and set to work on the needed alterations....

The next day, Cheryl Mackerson called up her lawyers and ordered them to draw up deeds of gift, irrevocably signing all her worldly possessions and titles over to Ariel Sherman.

"But, lady," the old head of the firm, her personal lawyer, babbled, "why are you doing this, giving all you own to an android? What will you live on?"

"I've grown tired of the world, sir," Mackerson said, "and I plan to retire to a Novazen convent for the rest of my life. In any case, it's my decision. I want the deed ready by this afternoon." She hung up abruptly without another word, and the lawyer had no choice but to prepare the papers and bring them to Mackerson's house.

He thought she looked a little ill and flat-colored, but said nothing as she examined the papers quickly and signed and sealed them, then passed them over to the waiting Ariel, sitting in a black satin pantsuit and brindlewood cuff bracelets, who did the same. Mackerson shook Ariel's hand and left the room, and Ariel took the seat behind the desk. Gazing coolly at the lawyer, she said to the lawyer, "I wanted to say before you go, sir, that your services to Ms. Mackerson have been exemplary. However, I intend to retain a new lawyer for my purposes and plans. Please have all relevant papers forwarded to me here by tomorrow afternoon. We'll pay whatever fees you have outstanding, with our thanks." And she nodded at him, clearly in dismissal. The old fellow looked green at the gills for losing such a lucrative client, but he again had no choice but to bow and withdraw.

Adam in the meantime had been finishing his work with the nanites, synthesizing enough to feed to all the inmates of the house--some 439--and the seven chrysalises finishing processing in Mackerson's secret labs. Jaris and the few staff working in the "embassy" had already been dealt with--distastefully, by stunning them on sight, then treating them with the nanites themselves--and were now locked in a storage room, inert and without personality. Ariel arrived at the lab an hour after finishing with the lawyer, the now silent Cheryl Mackerson accompanying her, unvoiceable rage flashing in the latter's eyes. Adam smiled at Ariel, glared at Mackerson, and led the way to the storage room, where Cheryl was directed to join the four already there. As Mackerson was walking into the room, Ariel glanced at Adam, then focused a little more on him. Something was wrong with him; he looked different, as if he was somehow smoother in the texture of his skin than normal. He had a slight scar above his ear from a childhood accident, but it seemed to be missing. But she hand no time to quiz him, for he was following Mackerson into the storage room.

Producing the compadd again, Adam said to Cheryl, "This is my own stroke on you, madam, my little fillip of personal vengeance for what you've done to my love, as well as my suggestion to her for safeguarding the facts. The way I see it, if you were left free, you could do this again with the knowledge you have and these people to assist you. We may have all your assets now, but you could surely find someone unscrupulous enough to fund you on another planet, and the whole cycle would begin again. That is intolerable to both Ariel and me. The law can't touch you, as far as we see, because of your connivance in how you converted her and the others, and your money would insulate you from all but the most determined of prosecutions. Even if you weren't a threat, or chose to get out of the business, these others here might choose to try it themselves. We won't let that happen either, while we have the power to control it here and now. Therefore, we must execute justice on you ourselves, and our sentence on you and your henchmen is that you will all be locked away in this room, to endure the passage of time to the end of days.

"We're tempted to reprogram you into a servant or somesuch, but that would be even worse than what you've done to Ariel and the others. Neither can we leave your personality intact, with the knowledge you have. So," and he ignored the growing horror in Mackerson's eyes as he continued, "your memory is also to be erased. There will be nothing left of you or your henchmen but these bodies; and if anybody finds them in the future...which is doubtful, when you take our longevity into account...they can do with them as they will. From what we gather, your lawyer knew nothing of your operations but the financial aspects, so he's safe; but if we discover differently, you'll have even more company in here.

"I assure you we get no pleasure from this. It's the only way we can see of keeping the world safe, at least for a time. Ariel and me and the others are the only ones now that know the secret of the nanites. That technique may be rediscovered again one day, but we intend to see that it's never put to use, and we'll be around for a long time to do so, with the financial wherewithal to make it stick. Goodbye, madam." Looking down to his hand, he tapped out the critical sequence on the padd, activated it, and turned away with a disgusted expression as Cheryl's head dropped onto her chest, the eyes now blank, the pupils shrunk to tiny dots. The door let in light for a few moments more on the six inert bodies before it slid shut with a final click. Two more clicks as the locks were engaged, and all was silence.

Ariel sighed as Adam dropped his hand from the lock panel. "And so that's that. We'd better go release the others now, I guess."

"No," Adam said. "That'll have to wait a half-hour yet, as I figure it, until I've finished processing."

"Processing? I thought you were done synthesizing the nanites."

"That's done. I'm talking about me personally." He pulled open the rip-strip closures on the work shirt he was wearing and revealed his chest. Its strong planes were still there, but it had become decidedly smooth in surface appearance, free of all the moles and blemishes Ariel knew he had, and bore none of the curly hair it had boasted before. And it was turning distinctly golden in color. The adhesive pad of a computer sensor dulled the surface over his left breast, and now she finally spotted another beneath the line of his long queued hair, on the nape of his neck. Ariel gawked in shock, then cringed into herself and shook her head with a whimpered "No!" and growing, denying horror.

Adam softly said, "There was an accident a few hours ago. My hand slipped as I was leaning against the inside of the tank to check telemetry and signal integrity; my head plunged in while I was drawing a breath, it happened so fast, and I got a lung full of the nanites. Once these things are in, it's irreversible, so I plugged myself into the padd here to save my personality. It's been maintaining me ever since, until the processing is complete; it's taken more time, since I'm crossing over from human to 'borg; you'll have to finish the activation sequences, but at least I'll still be here."

"No! NO!! Tell me this isn't happening, Adam!" she shouted, still staring at his chest, and glancing at his head. The gold was rapidly spreading up his neck and down his shoulders and arms, and she saw his hair start to dislodge in patches, even from the crimbeul and goatee he affected.

"Yes, it is," he said, not without regret, but not with total sadness either. "Look at it this way, love; now we can be together forever, or as close as never mind. I was still mortal, and I would have died in a hundred or so years, leaving you alone. Now, I'll last as long as you. That'll be a very long time indeed; the nanites rate out as self-replicating and self-maintaining, and seem able to work for thousands of years with a supply of building material from the food we consume. As you said, it isn't that bad a fate when you look at it that way, having a love that could truly last forever."

Ariel's golden eyes were unable to shed tears, but they still shone brightly with her inner despair. Then she looked into his eyes, now starting to mirror her own, and saw nothing but love and acceptance of his lot. Yet she could not help shaking with sobs as she threw her arms around him, crying dryly into his golden chest, pounding his slowly solidifying back and still moaning, "No, God, no! Adam, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!!" Adam wrapped his own arms about her, comforting her as much as he could while she sobbed herself into a low power state and finally fell defensively into sleep mode.

Four hours and a half later, a short distance into the evening, Ariel walked into the entrance hall of the Land of Fantasy, clad in her black silk pantsuit. She was accompanied by a golden man with a long queue of emerald green hair and a matching crimbeul mustache and beard flecked in white, dressed expensively in a white and purple linen tabard and dark green pants. Three workers also followed, carrying a large ceramic tank. She turned to the head attendant. "You received the instructions from Mackerson this morning? Are they clear?"

"Yes...uh...yes, ma'am," the startled lackey said, unused to addressing one of the androids with a title of respect. "We've cleared out what clients are left and refunded their credit, and informed all appointments that they are canceled until further notice. All the artists are in the great hall, waiting for you."

"Good. Lock the doors, and inform the guards to politely turn away any who come for a walk-in; then you may leave. Most important, you are not to go into that room, or we'll disembowel you. Clear?" She nodded to the transformed Adam and swept inside.

Gold and silver people sat about the room, talking quietly with each other. They all rose as she entered. The workmen set down their tank behind the two; Adam sent them to the bar across the room to bring back as many glasses as were available, while Ariel stepped forward to say, "I gather, sisters and brothers, that you've all heard who is the new owner of this place." Nods and murmurs answered her, and respectful gazes from the ones longest in servitude; she thought she saw some darkened gold and silver eyes among the younger--darkened with sadness, probably, either at the thought of just another master over their lives, or that one of their own had somehow been corrupted. So she smiled as she said, "Then I only have a few orders for you right now: to please come up here and have a drink of what I have in this tank. Just form a line, and we'll serve up; and, uh...please ignore the taste. Then follow me into the smaller lounge down the hall, where we'll fix you up with something else. After that, you can go back to your rooms for one hour, then return here." She turned to the bartender, who had come with the glasses, and said, "Well, start serving it up, man. And be careful that you don't drop a glass and cut yourself." She stole a regretful glance toward Adam, murmuring to herself, "We've had enough accidents tonight."

Only twelve of the over four hundred cyborgs chose to leave the house and seek the restoration of their own lives, and those were all brought in within the last two months. The seven new 'borgs that were in the midst of processing when Ariel and Adam captured Mackerson were later offered the same choice, and all chose to leave. There were threats of suits in the courts from a few of these, but they desisted when told of what vengeance had been taken against Mackerson and her helpers.

The rest remained behind and accepted Ariel's and Adam's offer of corporate ownership of the house as stockholders, with Ariel owning the controlling share. All the house was informed that first night of freedom, after throwing out the bartender and Adam's workmen, of how Cheryl Mackerson had been disposed of; Adam and Ariel made them all swear solemn oaths by whatever deities or powers they held sacred not to reveal the news, lest their benefactors be prosecuted for murder by the regular law.

Six hours later, when the ephemerides said that Quintanus IV was in the morning mode of its diurnal period, Ariel excused herself from Adam for a purpose. He smiled and said to go with his blessing and good luck. And so she went to her new office in the top floor of her new house, and placed a voice-only comm call to a certain house on that distant planet. The commline was picked up within a minute, and a woman's voice said, "Hello, Martina Avorsen here."

"Hey, Marty, you big pain in the rear, how're you doing," Ariel said.

Dead silence for ten seconds, then the voice returned with a distinctly broken quality. "Who is this? How dare you call me like this and impersonate my sister?"

"I'm not impersonating, sis. This is Candace. Self-cut hair at six years old, singing in the bedroom every day for two months like I was the star of a musical performance, everything. I've come back."

"Candace?? Is it really you??? Trine bless, where have you been??? It's been over two bloody years since you left home for a vacation! We had half the police in the sector looking for you on Videra, and you'd just...disappeared from your hotel."

"Tell me about it, Martina; I remember almost every second of those two years. I've been...I've been alive." She would not say that she had been alright, although there were many good moments that she did treasure--mostly with Adam. "And now I've surfaced again, and I can come to visit you and explain what's happened."

"Visit? What do you mean, 'visit?' Candy, it's time you came home! Turn on your vid and let me see you!"

"I don't have vid where I'm at," Ariel lied with regret; she could not bring herself to explain everything except in person. "But I'm getting the first flight I can back to Quintanus, and I'll come to your house. Believe me, this'll take a lot of explaining, and I can't do it on the commphone. It'll be about two days, okay?"

"Well, dammit, I guess it'll have to be okay. But the instant you land, you give me a call, right?"

"Okay, sis, I will. I have to go pack now; I'll let you know the arrival time. And you'd better have taken good care of my glass egg collection; I want it back! Out." She tapped off and went for her bedroom to begin packing for about a fortnight's time, but paused in her progress to stare out at the flowers around the front lawn and reflect. Adam was lucky in this; he was a native of Videra, and his family was still here, and none of his life had been dissolved out from under him; he could walk back into his president's office and lab with no change in his life, other than he could now light up the room just from the reflection off his body. But her life had been ripped away from her by Mackerson, and two years of time spent as dead in her family's eyes would make it hard to rebuild.

Then she squared her golden shoulders; worry wouldn't get her anywhere, only tackling the problem. Now that she had a chance, it was time to get down to it.

A private yacht that had once belonged to Cheryl Mackerson touched down at the main spaceport of Quintanus's capital city two days later, and a chauffeured floatcar driven by an android--an actual android--emerged from the hold and entered the streets. Nearly an hour later, the floater pulled up in front of the house Martina Avorsen shared with her husband, banker Paul Sagan, and Ariel emerged. She was not interested in setting trends today; she only thought of trying to make her sister as comfortable as she could with the new status quo. She had therefore dressed conservatively. A pale lilac silk blouse, open for three buttons, was tucked into a dark green pair of silk pants, over black leather boots of a more standard length, though still with high heels. She again wore the pair of polished red brindlewood cuffs on her wrists, matched by a set of oversize wooden buttons in the piercings of her ears. Her one gemstone was a large diamond set in silver that Adam had selected from her amplified jewelry collection and placed on her left hand, in earnest of his own visit to a jewelry store while she was here. Her one bright note of color was a voluminous hooded rain cloak of peacock blue, which she wore for privacy's sake as well as the rainy weather. The cloak billowed about her body in the stiff wind as she walked up the winding driveway, seemingly flapping in time with the pulse of nervousness running through her mind--she couldn't claim that her heart was pounding, since she no longer had an organic heart, or an endocrine system to stimulate it to rapid beating; but nervousness was an emotion that could pulse in her cybernetic brain, and it was definitely doing so now.

She pulled down the hood as she came under cover of the deep eaves before the front door, and rang the bell. The door slid open in five seconds, and Martina appeared with an elated grin on her face. "Candy!!" she shouted at first; then the color and appearance of the woman before her sunk in, and she floundered in confusion. "Uh...ah.... I'm sorry; I thought you were my sister.... Wait a minute," she added as recognition of a different kind fell into place; "Don't I know you from the news and vidzines?"

Ariel nodded with a nervous smile, then reached up and bunched her azure tresses in a golden hand, making it look more like her old bob cut. "It is me, sis, though you probably have seen me a lot in the 'zines for a few years," she said in her mezzo voice that had never been altered. "Just looking way different from what you'd expect."

Martina's face went from confusion to astonishment, then horror. "Candace??? What...?" and she faded off.

Ariel nodded, her face falling. In a shaking voice, she said, "As you can see, a...a few things have changed. Can I come in?"

"Uh.... Yes...yes, of course." Martina stepped aside, unable to resist staring at what her sister had become. She led the way to her comfortable living room and sat down--some centimeters distant from what she normally would when Candace was visiting.

Ariel saw that this was going to be more difficult than she had feared, not that she was surprised. "Marty, it really is me here. This is what I couldn't tell you on the comm. Something happened to me on Videra. In fact, a lot of things happened to me, and they're gonna keep on happening, from the looks."

"But what are- I mean, what did happen to you? I guess that isn't just paint and a wig, is it? Or are you in disguise and on the run?"

Mutely, Ariel moved to the couch, noting with pain the slight flinch of fear that shot through Martina's face, and held out her right arm in invitation. Martina stared at it dumbly for a few seconds, then back into Ariel's gold-coin eyes. The fear was plainer, and Ariel finally snapped. "Marty, touch me, for God's sake! I couldn't infect you if I wanted to; once the nanites are in a body, they become fixed and stable.... Please, Marty," she pleaded. "There's only one other person I've wanted to hold more for these two years, and I have him all to myself now. Please!"

The anguish in Ariel's voice finally penetrated Martina's doubt. Still hesitantly, she reached to the offered arm and felt the strange combination of warm, pliant suppleness and metallic solidity that was her sister's "flesh." Then she frowned as she looked harder at the integument. "Hold it; Candace had an old scar on the right arm from a floatscooter accident as a kid! What is this?"

"It was smoothed away, covered up, I don't know what, when I was transformed. I also had a burn scar on my left foot from a hot log that rolled out of a campfire on me, and an appendectomy scar. And before you ask any more, only you and I know about that rose tattoo you got on your own ass on a bender in college. Is that proof enough for you?"

Martina's eyes had popped when Ariel described the burn on her foot; but her jaw dropped at the tattoo, an idiocy committed by Martina during her third year in college and removed a month later without telling their parents. " It is you!" And she bent forward to offer Ariel the hug she had not known she needed so badly for over two years. Before long they were crying into each other's shoulders, Martina with tears, Ariel in the tearless fashion that was left to her and Adam was unable to reverse. When they were finally done, she asked in a low, tired tone, "I'm sorry, Marty, but...I desperately need a...high-glucose drink, fast." Martina ran for a beaker and a pitcher after another startled glance. While Ariel drank off a glass, she asked her again, "But, Candy, what in hell happened, and...why are you like this?" She now sat close enough to touch Ariel.

Ariel sighed as the drink was quickly broken down by her fusion furnace and fed to her power circuits. "That's better.... Well, the quick answer is, I was shanghaied." She finally began her tale, speaking for some twenty minutes and another three beakers. Some details she held back; she wasn't going to discuss most of over 750 nights of sex with her sister. Neither did she reveal the precise final disposition of Cheryl Mackerson. "When Adam freed me," she said, "we confronted her at gunpoint and gave her a choice: her money and silence, or her life in a detention cell. One thing about Cheryl; she's a pragmatist. She signed everything over to me and took off for a convent."

Martina had went through another bout of tears for her sister's conversion and life as a sex slave earlier; now she gaped at the sheer dash of Candace as a blazer-toting gun moll. Before the story was over, she had grabbed Ariel's hand and refused to let it go, partly in unconscious remorse for her unthinking fear of earlier. Now she frowned; "But if she's still free out there, she could start again; or she could come back and attack you, especially if she has something stashed somewhere for emergencies."

"No," Ariel shook her head. "I'm certain we have all her records. We know what she has where, and we already have plans for it to fix our lives up. All those records also constitute evidence we did not have before. A good prosecuting attorney would have her locked away so deep in a detention block that she'd never get a breath of fresh air."

"You have more forbearance than me. I would have pulled the trigger...on kill. But what will you do now, Candy...uh, I mean Ariel? Do you prefer that now?"

"You and Paul and anybody I've known here can call me Candace," Ariel smiled. "I can't expect you all to change on the instant like that. And now that I'm not under Mackerson's control, I have my old memories back and unmasked. But I do have an established life back on Videra now, as well as more credit than even I'll probably be able to spend in my lifetime. I was going nowhere as an interior decorator, and I never loved the job.

"Last, I've changed, in more than just my body composition. I've...grown, grown up tremendously as a person, both from all my wouldn't believe what I've learned talking with all the clients I've seen...and all the college courses I've downloaded and worked through. Not only that, but I can learn even more, in any field I choose. I need more scope now than I can find here on Quintanus, so I'm going back to Videra when I leave. It's one of the most cosmopolitan places in the Republic, and full of opportunity for an inventive type. God knows, that's where Cheryl got her start."

"What are you gonna do then? Keep running the house? I thought you wanted out of the pleasure business."

"Now who said I was going to stay in the pleasure business?" Ariel grinned.

Ariel stayed three more days on Quintanus, inviting friends to a dinner that let her tell the story in one session. By the last day, she was heartily ready to leave; as she had always complained, life on this planet was far more fusty than out in the wider Republic (which was why she had went to Videra in the first place), and it had become even more so now. Hugging both her sister and brother-in-law deeply, and promising to stay in touch regularly, she got back in her limousine and left for the spaceport, and the new life she had made, and would make.

The news of Mackerson's "resignation" could not be kept a secret from the public that had thronged to her pleasure house so greatly, so the cover story that had been fed to her lawyer was handed out, along with the truth of her infamy. The true, full resolution of her life was never made known to the public at large, but it was unnecessary; within a day of the revelation, public opinion was firmly behind the cyborgs. A manhunt was begun to bring Mackerson to justice; the public's yell for blood--and self-fear that they might have been next--demanded no less. Inquiries were made to every Novazen convent within ten light-years of Videra, to no effect of course; beyond the lack of Mackerson's presence at any convent, the Novazen were the most secretive sect in the quadrant. Not even the justiciary was able to pry a word out of their preceptors when they wished not to talk, and they never talked about who was a member of a convent. It was a great relief to Ariel and Adam when it was finally assumed she had totally disappeared, and given her hundreds of millions to the former Candace Avorsen as a token repentance. In the outcry over what she had done to over 400 people, nobody stopped to ask why she had chosen to "repent" and disappear.

All wondered what the cyborgs would do to redress the impact on their lives, and Ariel made it known that they would continue to run the business known as the Land of Fantasy; the business plan, however, would change radically. The business was quickly incorporated under the stockholder's plan agreed to by the cyborgs on that first night of freedom, calling itself the Cyborg Condominiatum. Credit was at hand in vast amounts, which was invested into corporate equities across the galaxy, and the returns paid back to their corporation. This diversified their position to a firm with concerns in many areas. Several of the cyborgs, before their conversion, had been successful businessmen and -women; they now turned their talents in this unexpected direction. Others, who had practiced law in their various lives on various planets, received programming in Videran law and opened up a joint practice, lobbying for but one month before all the cyborgs were granted full legal status as citizens of the Republic, then working to maintain the corporation's interests in all their many investments. Some few dozen more chose not to participate in the Condominiatum's activities except as stockholders, and went into various trades they had known before, working now on Videra instead of their own home planets.

More importantly, the Land of Fantasy building remained closed for six standard months, though 72 of the older cyborgs chose to continue pursuing the sexual trade and maintained client lists by appointment in their apartments. (Through some clever maneuvering, the legists had managed to gain an exemption for the cyborgs in the Pleasure House Act, defining them as freelance agents and allowing them to continue in their ancient profession. The argument was that, just as there was enough human left in them to qualify as lifeforms, so there was enough machine to qualify in that category for the purposes of the law. Now the artists got to set their own prices, and keep 90% of their take, only the remaining ten percent going to the corporation as facility rental!) The remainder hired writers, costumers, decorators and builders to restructure their world to their own desires, instead of the mad Cheryl Mackerson's.

Then the invitations went out to every notable and hotel in Vidran. The past reputation of the Land of Fantasy was such that a full house was assured on re-opening night, but a vastly different house met their eyes. Now tiers of banquette seating and tables, enough for perhaps 500 people, faced a large stage. Ushers made the audience welcome, and waiters took orders for drinks and savories as all filed in, until the time set on the invitation; then the house lights went down and an energetic music began.

In an office behind the audience, with a one-way glass in the window, clad in a quilted silver velvet dressing gown, Ariel gazed down in excitement. "Think we're ready?" she asked her sister for the tenth time.

Martina, who had traveled to Videra a month ago with others of the family and some of Ariel's old friends, laughed in mock exasperation and aimed a blow at her golden sister that did not connect. Ariel herself had dressed Martina, nearly her size, from her own closets; the woman was resplendent in a midnight blue satin halter sheath piped at the hems with silver, and silver and diamond jewels were thick in her ears, around her neck and throat, and as a heavy circlet about her brows. Silver lamé gloves covered her arms to her shoulders, while silver thigh boots sheathed her legs, and a huge lamé stole was wrapped about her shoulders. The best hairdresser and cosmetologist on Videra had worked on her, and her evening beauty reflected her sister's, in more normal tones of flesh and lengthened brown hair. Now she said, "Judging by that crowd, you haven't a choice but to be a hit. But do you think it'll work?"

"If we have our act together, there's almost no way it can lose. This type of entertainment was incredibly popular once, according to histories, and it hasn't been seen in the worlds for a few thousand years; it's all fresh and novel to today's people. It should be a smash. Public sympathy will help on that as well, but I think we've got a good clutch of performers here to do the job."

"Then what are you worrying about? You'll wow them.... Well, I'm going down to our box with Paul now, before an usher gives it away."

"Not a chance of that! Wish us luck anyway."

"Break a leg," Martina said in the show biz tradition, hugging her sister and kissing her cheek. "You deserve luck now, girl, after all you went through. If I could kill that woman myself, I would. Seclusion in a convent is too good for her. But it looks like you're going to bounce back in triumph." And she walked off, not noticing the darkening of Ariel's eyes. But Ariel quickly shook it off and made her way backstage to her and Adam's dressing suite; there was too much excitement in the air to stay morose.

The audience started applauding as the curtain rose, and a chorus of nearly a hundred men and women, all in flesh of gold and silver, began to perform an opening revue number before them. The women were tall and lovely, dressed in colorful, scanty costumes of satins, feathers, furs and huge headdresses hung with synthesized jewels, while the men were in evening attire of antique design, with top hats and tail coats, as colorful as the women. Their number was written and staged by the best talents in show, building on all the learning Ariel had accumulated in the arts and entertainment during her captivity, and they held the audience enthralled; so did the seventeen acts that followed, with an intermission. Comics pulled laughs out of the stoniest of patrons, while dazzling golden chanteuses in gorgeous costumes and bejeweled coiffures sung songs that wrung the heart. Three of those songs were performed by Ariel, whose voice had always matched her face for beauty. Another two songs were duets between her and Adam; while he was still running his own company, Ariel had persuaded to do some part-time performing because of his excellent voice. It hadn't taken long for him to pick up the needed skills to project and act, especially with intensive coaching from his new wife. The audience was spellbound by the love that was palpable between the two, increasing the intensity of the ballad they chose to heights of artistry and sincerity.

Three more production numbers were scattered through the body of the show. The sexual artists of the Land of Fantasy had circulated among those tables interested in such companionship during the intermission, but they were watching as raptly as the rest of the audience as the show moved to its ending. The onlookers were totally captured by then, and were sad to see the evening winding down, but they looked forward eagerly for the finale. A final short intermission came first, then....

The curtains opened for the last official time, revealing a stage with creamy "marble" walls and a huge mirrored stairway, lit by massive candelabras, the tapers supported by completely nude men of the house, their golden "flesh" making them resemble part of the golden metalwork, their penises hard and erect. More graceful chandeliers hung from the ceiling, made of equally nude golden women supporting the candle fixtures, interspersed with chains of synthesized diamonds that cast rainbows around the room. The other members of the show paraded down the stairs in costumes of gold and blue or silver and green, singing the closing number. As it rose to a crescendo, two more figures appeared at the head of the stair in a pose for five bars, then walking down hand in hand with ceremonial stateliness.

Adam was in the antique white tie evening clothes, his top hat, trousers and tail coat of glistening emerald shot with silver; the gleam of golden bracelets could be spied beneath his cuffs, which were closed with emerald studs in gold. Glittering diamonds and the white sheen of pearls and the blue of the deep ocean were Ariel's choice of costume. Her wore a wide-pleated strapless top, cut down into her cleavage and glued onto her golden breasts, over a smooth belled ball skirt with multiple four-meter trains, all in silver lamé, encrusted with diamonds, sapphires and pearls; it was supported by a crinoline framework beneath, so that the stones did not crush and flatten the fabric. Her sapphire-blue hair was braided tight to her head and wound into a lamé turban topped with a thick spray of long silver-dyed feathers; it was also frosted over with diamonds, sapphires and pearls, as were her tight tall boots of silver leather. She wore no other jewelry except for her fingernails, which she had sheathed in small diamonds. The nails projected out from fingerless silver gloves, and one hand held one of her meter-long silver cigarette holders covered in diamonds, which she had posed with at the top of the stairs. Adding to her luxurious appearance was a vast stole of thick white fur, looped over her arms and trailing behind her nearly as far as the ends of her gown's trains.

All this shine, added to the golden gleam of her cyborg body, suited her plans for the night completely: to absolutely dazzle the audience. She seemed the wealthiest woman in the galaxy, and the most alluring, and there was not a member of the audience who would not have chosen her as their personal empress in that moment.

She and Adam added their voices to the chorus while the star performers and comedians lined up behind them and the singers broke into the final refrain, finishing in a triumphant pose with upraised arms. They all took their ecstatic bows as the audience applauded exultantly. Adam, smiling brilliantly, handed her forward to the apron of the stage, where the mayor of the city himself presented her with a huge bouquet of fragrant red roses. Cleverly, she pulled one long-stemmed bloom from the bouquet, kissed it, and threw it into the audience, then called Adam forward to gift him with another. He accepted it with a bow and tucked it into the buttonhole of his jacket, then fell back again to the line of the cast, clapping and yelling, "Speech, speech!" Ariel glared at him, but the cry was taken up by the near rows in the audience as well as her comrades onstage. So, beckoning for silence as the crowd continued to applaud, she finally was able to say, "My friends, you've seen the opening night of this new Land of Fantasy. Most of us here on this stage had other plans for our lives, but those were altered radically by one foolish woman. We now reclaim those lives, in a way that pleases both us and, we hope, you as well." She bowed again as the audience cried its approval, waved for the cast to bow as well, and returned to Adam as the curtain fell.

The audience wasn't satisfied, though with just that; they clapped and whistled and called for more bows and encores. Finally, after a repeat of the finale and five curtain calls, Adam and Ariel poked their heads out from behind the curtain and made shooing motions with their hands, setting the audience roaring with laughter even as they finally began filing out.

Adam and Ariel roared themselves later, back in the quiet and privacy of their house. One side effect of two cyborg bodies coming together was an ability to pleasure each other intensely and almost endlessly. The two had been going about it for an hour, too high and excited to go to "sleep," and were loving off their high spirits. Martina was in the house as well, along with Paul; fortunately, they were well off in another wing, and could not hear all the activity going on in this bedroom.

Finally, Ariel slowed her rocking on Adam's unflagging penis; she dragged his golden hands off her own gleaming breasts and kissed them deeply, then carefully drew herself off and fell onto the satin sheets. Adam sighed happily as she grinned at him; being a cyborg did have its advantages, after all! He said, "And so you've reclaimed your sanity? Or do you want some more?"

Ariel laughed richly. "Maybe in the morning, lover. Oh, God, I'm so happy, beyond just making love to you."

"It was a good night. You all have your futures back, and we're turning this into something positive."

"But that's not all I'm happy about, either."

"What, then? It's hard to believe that there's anything to be happier about."

Ariel scraped the tumbled azure tresses out of her gleaming eyes with a glowing smile. "You know that we're partly organic, don't you?"

"That is kind of the definition of cyborg, isn't it?"

"Well, five months ago, I finally realized that again myself, and I had a body scan done at the hospital to find out just how organic we are. I asked Joseph Connors to get scanned as well, to test the male side of the question."

"Why didn't you ask me?" He looked affronted.

"Bear with me and you'll figure it out. When I found out the parameters, I had a sample of the stored food Mackerson served analyzed as well. It had an additive in it--a powerful contraceptive."


"Our bodies are mostly electronic now. But we do still have some internal organs, mainly geared toward the reproductive and pleasure areas of biology, as well as maintaining our personalities and memories. The nanites sustain and preserve those, too, but they need some source material to work with, in the form of food. The stuff Mackerson fed us in the house was geared to our altered chemistry, not only to supply the nanites with minerals and silicon for the cybernetic parts, but organics for our remaining organs; and, of course, also to fit her desires. One desire, of course, was no children being born in the house, so that her operation wasn't given away, and so the food was salted with that contraceptive. We are practically immortal in this state; now we know we're also capable of reproduction. I've kept the contraceptive available at request for the artists and any of us who don't desire children, and discontinued it otherwise. I've told everyone else in the house but you, and now you know as well."

Adam stared in wonder; "You mean we can have a child?"

"Not only that, love," Ariel crowed. "We are having a child. I've been feeling a diversion of internal resources, and so I had myself tested. Remember when I was gone last Friday? I got the test results on my message system before I came up to bed tonight."

"A child! What will it be like?"

She hesitated then, and he could feel the tenseness in the air. "That I haven't been concentrating on. But I already know, both from the tests and from my internal monitoring.... We're giving birth to a cyborg baby, Adam; the nanites have crossed over the placenta and implanted in the fetus. But even if it is a cyborg, does it really matter? I mean, we may be creating a new species here, I suppose; I don't even know if I can nurse it, or if it needs nursing, but as long as it's loved, does it matter? There's enough humanity in us that it'll show up in the baby, too. And I hope you aren't angry at me for taking things into my own hands and not telling you; I just wanted this so much!"

Adam's answer was to draw her close and kiss her strongly, before saying, "Let me show you how much it matters." He spun her around then and cradled her, crossing his arms to hold her in and laying his gleaming golden hands on her glittering breasts with far more tenderness than he had shown before. She could feel him strong between her legs as his golden penis lengthened and stiffened from the contact between them, trying to enter her again seemingly of its own accord; and as he rocked her back and forth beneath the sheets, his quiet, shallow breaths soft in her ears, she felt him slide home once more, though not completely. Ariel groaned, unable to resist the presence of him inside her, she loved Adam so much, and she unconsciously adjusted herself slightly to draw him in deeper. To hell with the morning; this was a time for celebration!

As he stroked her with careful passion, she sighed, "When I knew that I was in love with you, I dreamed of having your child someday. But I never hoped for it to happen; there seemed no chance of us being together, never mind the seeming physical limitations. Now.... God above, all my dreams are coming true, and I never would have believed how far I had to travel to do it!"

He paused for a moment. "Me too, Ari. I never thought I would get married or have a child, until we worked through all this. Now here we are.... Do you have any idea if it'll be a boy or girl?"

"It hasn't started kicking me yet, but I hope it'll be a boy."

"Is there anybody there?"

"You mean is it conscious already?" She broke off and focused within herself, seeking information. "Maybe at the most primitive level, just like a normal baby. Two things worry me, though. How do I give birth when I have a metal body?"

In answer, before she said anything else, Adam squeezed her breast. "You forget how pliable this integument is, love. It'll flex enough to deliver a baby. What was the second?"

"Well, I'm probably going to be showing in a week or two. We never anticipated the need for understudies in the show; what happens when I can't fit in my costumes?"

Adam snorted with laughter and said, "Buy new costumes, then, love! Right now, I couldn't care less if you delivered on stage! I want the world to know it all."

"If I keep performing, they'll know that! But, now that I'm thinking more about this, I can come up with two advantages to a cyborg child, and they're linked to each other."

"What are they?"

"No diapers; and, even potty training." Adam's hands suddenly went slack on her and slid down her flanks as the laughing began; grinning in wonder, she spun back over to see her golden lover laugh himself silly, and finally fall out of bed with a heavy thump that shook the floor. As he eventually struggled back into bed, he gasped out, "I doubt that will give us much freedom, love! I come from a large family, and I know a few things about babies."

"Then you'll have to teach me," Ariel grinned.

"I'll be glad to," and he kissed her deeply to seal the promise.

As it turned out, Ariel did not give birth on stage, but rather in a hospital, surrounded by monitors, hopelessly curious physicians, and a hired xenobiologist as well as Adam, Martina and Paul. Despite her wishes, the child turned out to be a girl, but she was as loved as a son would be; Adam swore that little Zana was a miniature copy of her mother, the one great difference being hair of bright golden blonde. Little did they know that, in future years, this one small child would help catalyze the next great advance in the lives of the cyborgs.


Continued in:  Ariel's Tale - Leap of Faith. . .

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