Frank Tyler was a naturally nervous person. So, when the time came to show off his project at the bottling plant to one of the parent company’s inspectors, he was ready to climb the walls. He had been working on the project for the last two months, going over everything with a fine toothed comb. Everything was perfect. Still, Frank was so nervous that he could actually feel the sweat running down his back.
And the inspector that the company had sent wasn’t helping things either.
Frank had always had a hard time being calm around pretty women. And Brandy Larken wasn’t just pretty. She was drop-dead gorgeous. The twenty-something woman was tall, standing a good four to five inches above Frank’s own 5’6" height. And that was in flats. She was wearing a very sharp dress suit with a skirt that ended just above her knees. The suit was dark gray, with a light blue blouse underneath. It really set off her jet-black hair nicely.
"Th-this… Uh, this way, Ms. Larken," Frank stammered, unable to keep the nervousness out of his voice. He was leading her down a corridor with a closed steel door at the end. Behind the door was the main part of the bottling facility.
Just before they got to the door, the inspector stopped and turned to face him. "Okay, Frank," she smiled at him. It was a great smile that went nicely with her big blue eyes. "The first thing we need to do is drop this ‘Ms. Larken’ crap. Please, call me Brandy."
Frank swallowed before nodding. "Okay," he said.
"Now, I know that I represent the home office, Frank" she continued, "but you need to calm down. I’m not here to cancel your project. The company just wants me to take a look at it and see how things are going. Maybe offer a few suggestions on ways to improve it. Nothing else. Okay?"
He nodded and gave her a slightly crooked smile.
"Good," she smiled back. "Then let’s get started, shall we?" She turned to face the tall steel door. "Besides, I’m sure you’re worrying for nothing, Frank. I mean, what could go wrong?"
As if to answer her question, the door was suddenly thrown open by a large worker wearing a company coverall. "Coming through," he hollered, as the door banged loudly against the concrete wall. He pushed past Frank and headed up the corridor.
"I’m sorry about that, Ms. Lar… Um, Brandy," Frank said, watching as the worker went through the door on the opposite end of the corridor. "I hope this doesn’t cause you to…" He stopped as he turned back to face the inspector.
She wasn’t there.
"Ms. Larken?" he asked cautiously, walking to the open door and peering out into the plant. Still no sign of her. He stopped to think for a moment. Where could she have gone? She had been standing right in front of the door when…
His eyes shot open, as he remembered that Brandy had been standing directly in the path of the steel door. As fast as it had been flung open, there was no way that she could have had time to get out of the way. He moved back into the corridor and looked at the door. It had been pushed flat up against the concrete wall, leaving no space in between.
"Oh, no!" Frank shouted, rushing forward and grabbing the door. He pulled it quickly away from the wall and looked behind it. He let out a sigh of relief when he didn’t see the woman there. He had been afraid that he would find her smash against the wall. Well, it was obvious that she had to be somewhere else, so he turned to resume his search for the missing inspector.
That was when he saw her.
She had been squashed face down on the back of the steel door. In fact, she was completely flat, looking to Frank like one of those little rubber sticky things he’d played with as a kid. "Ms. Larken!" he shouted, closing the door for a better look. There was no depth to her body at all that he could see.
With a gulp, he reached up and attempted to work his fingers under the top of the flattened woman’s head. With a little work, he was able to get a decent hold and slowly began to peel her free. As her head came loose, he heard her weakly say, "Please… call… me… Brandy."
Hearing her voice, Frank was energized to get her free from the door. He doubled his efforts, pulling quicker than he had before. With a sound like Velcro being separated from felt, the woman came completely loose. Holding her up by her head, Frank took a closer look at her condition. She looked like a life-size poser of herself. Her arms hung limply at her sides, and her legs were folded on the floor beneath her at odd angles.
"Don’t you worry, Ms. Larken," he told her, letting her head fall forward as he shifted his hands to her shoulders and quickly began to roll her body up into a tube. "I think I know just how to get you back into shape." He stuck the rolled-up inspector under his arm and opened the door to the plant.
He rushed forward into the main work area of the facility, looking around frantically. It looked just like about any other bottling plant, with pipes to channel water, conveyor belts to carry the bottles, and robotic arms for moving stuff around. The only thing that might look out of place was the large funnel above the bottling equipment. This was used to add various chemicals to the process.
But Frank didn’t have time to admire the look of the place. He was looking for something in particular. "There it is," he said with a relieved tone. He rushed over to a small storage area, where several items were kept. But there was only one item there that interested him, and that was the compressed air tank leaning against the wall.
He placed the tube on a nearby work table and unrolled the flattened young woman, smoothing out any wrinkles. He went to the air tank and rolled it over to the table. "We used this air to help clear clogged pipes," he explained, as he pulled the hose from its cradle. He quickly placed it to Brandy’s lips, noticing that her eyes were following his every movement. "Don’t worry, Ms. Larken," he told her, trying to sound confident. "This should do the trick."
Slowly, he opened the valve, releasing the air through the hose. He watched for any sign that it was working, and almost shouted for joy when he saw the woman’s face started to rise up slowly from the table. As it came up, the hose went past Brandy’s lips and into her mouth, making it unnecessary for him to hold it. He opened the valve wider to increase the flow of air, noting that the rest of the woman’s body was beginning to fill up, as well.
He let out another relieved sigh…just as the valve twisted off in his hand.
He stared at the round piece of metal in his hand for a few seconds. He tried a couple of times to reattach it to the tank, but had no luck. He was still looking it over when he heard a frantic moan from behind him. He turned, and saw that Brandy, the hose still in her mouth, was looking down at herself. He turned his own eyes to follow hers.
While he had been trying to repair the valve, the air tank had continued to pump air into the flattened inspector. She had returned to her normal shapely form fairly quickly. However, with air steadily being pumped into her, she was continuing to grow bigger. Frank couldn’t believe his eyes as the woman’s stomach expanded outward, like a balloon being blown up. The rest of her body soon was following her belly’s example. Before he knew it, Brandy began to rise up off the table toward the ceiling. Only the hose in her mouth kept her from floating too far away.
In a panic, Frank turned back to the air tank and doubled his efforts to reattach the broken valve, but he just couldn’t get it to work. Another hectic moan from Brandy turned him back around again. He almost screamed at the sight of the poor woman. She had continued to inflate, and her body was now a perfectly round ball. Her hands and feet, as well as her head, were the only things that gave any indication that she was anything but a large helium balloon.
Frank knew that he had to do something quickly, or the young woman just might explode. He looked from the air tank to the broken valve in his hand. Finally, deciding he had no other choice, he tossed the valve aside and took hold of the hose with both hands. "Hold on, Ms. Larken," he said. "I’ll get you out of this." And he gave the hose a powerful yank.
The hose popped out of Brandy’s mouth, accompanied by the sound of escaping air. The sound came from both the end of the hose and from Brandy’s lips. The air rushing from the end of the hose caused the rubber tube to whip around violently, but the end attached to the tank kept it tethered, and Frank was quickly able to bring it under control. He had just a second to congratulate himself for his fast thinking before he realized his mistake.
Unlike the hose, Brandy had not been anchored to anything, and the escaping air sent her flying away from the area. Frank watched helplessly as the woman rocketed around the open factory, darting left and right…up and down. The only thing that made him feel any better was that, as the air came out of her, she seemed to be regaining her lovely shape again.
However, without the excess air to propel her, her forward momentum slowed until she came to a complete stop, still high above the factory floor. Frank watched in horror, as Brandy seemed to float motionless in midair for a few seconds, before starting to drop like a rock downward.
He started to call out, but before he could, he saw that Brandy didn’t have as far to fall as he first thought. She had only fallen a few feet when she landed butt-first on top of the large funnel above the equipment. It was wide enough for her to sit on comfortably, which she did while looking around in confusion. Noticing Frank looking up at her, she waved to him with a smile.
"Are you all right, Ms. Larken?" he called up.
"Fine," she shouted back. "And please, call me Bran…uh!" Her whole body suddenly jerked, and Frank saw her face scrunch up, as if she was in pain. She looked down at herself for a second, before looking back up at him with an expression of concern.
A moment later, Frank had a reason to share her concern. He could hear the motors of the bottling machinery firing up to run. The woman landing on the top of the funnel had been enough to start the automated bottling process into motion. He looked from the large mechanical device to where Brandy sat looking down at him with those big blue eyes. The corners of her mouth moved up into an unsure smile a second before she was sucked completely through the mouth of the funnel.
It all happened so fast that Frank only got flashes of how it appeared. The action of being pulled into the smaller end of the funnel had, in effect, folded Brandy in half, forcing her chest into her knees. Her legs and arms were now parallel with each other, all extended straight up into the air. Frank got a quick glimpse of her face peering out from between her shins before she disappeared completely into the funnel.
Beneath the funnel extended a clear plastic pipe that ran down to the bottling machinery. A second after he lost sight of the inspector, Frank could see her coming out of the bottom and into the pipe. First he saw the gray color of her suit, quickly followed by a hint of the light blue blouse and the slightly tanned flesh tone of her skin. Finally, came the jet-black of the woman’s hair, as her whole body was stretched and compressed through the long sequence of pipe. The sight that disturbed Frank the most was her eyes. The big blue orbs could clearly be seen through the clear plastic, staring out at him as the woman was pulled into the main body of the bottling apparatus.
With a cry of panic, Frank rushed around the large piece of equipment. He stopped at the workman’s platform next to the control panel and watched as the machinery ran through its program.
First, a clear plastic gallon bottle was dropped into a cradle that held it in place. Next, a nozzle came down to fill the bottle with water, or it would have if there had been water cycling through the system. Instead, the nozzle blasted air into the bottle before retracting back into the machinery. Then, the cradle opened, allowing the bottle to slip onto a moving conveyor belt that carried it away to the next station.
Frank watched the process repeat with precise accuracy several times, waiting for what he knew was coming. Sure enough, on the sixth cycle, when the nozzle came down, instead of air, it feed the helpless woman into the bottle. Her entire body was compressed inside in a matter of seconds, looking like nothing more than a mass of gray and tanned goo. However, Frank could make out the inspector’s face pressed into the wall of the bottle, those big blue eyes staring out at him. He watched as the bottle was fed past him on the conveyor belt.
Quickly, Frank ran the bottling process through his head, trying to remember the next step. After filling, he remembered, the bottles go through quality control, where they were checked for impurities by being fed through a light system. If the light failed to pass through the bottle clearly, the bottle was rejected and emptied into a drain that ran to the sewage system beneath the plant.
"Great googoly moogoly!" Frank shouted, realizing that there was no way that the bottle containing the compressed young woman would pass inspection. He rushed over to the quality console and looked over the controls. He knew there was no way to stop the quality procedure once it had started, but there was something else he could do. "Where is it?" he said out loud, looking up to see the bottle with Brandy in it coming down the belt. "Here!" he shouted in triumph, quickly pressing a button just as the bottle moved into the quality lights.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded and a bright red light began flashing on the control panel. A second later, a robot arm rushed in and removed the bottle from the belt, carrying it away. At first, Frank was afraid that he had been too late, but after checking the console, he saw that his plan had succeeded. Water wasn’t the only product that they bottled at the facility, but it was the only one that was emptied into the sewer. Unable to stop the procedure, Frank had done the only thing he could do. He changed what the system was checking for. Brandy was still rejected, of course, but at least she wasn’t going down the drain.
With a sigh of relief, Frank checked to see what he had changed the system to check for. He smiled, seeing that it was one of the experimental polymers that they bottled for a local laboratory. "Let’s see," he said to himself, stepping down from the console, "when that is rejected it goes to…" He stopped in his tracks. "To the compressor!" he finished, rushing after the arm carrying the rejected bottle.
He had to go around several obstructions, so he didn’t get to the bottle before it was turned over above a slightly raised platform. He stopped and watched in amazement as what looked like strangely colored oil began to seep out of the mouth of the bottle. As it began to collect on the surface below, it began to take on a familiar shape. Frank watched as a pair of low-heeled shoes formed on the platform, followed by a shapely pair of legs. The shaping continued upward until the rest of the woman was reformed, leaving the somewhat disoriented inspector standing there.
"Ms. Larken," Frank called out to get her attention, knowing that he only had a few seconds to get her down before…
The inspector looked up at his voice, and smiled her dazzling smile at him. "Please," she said yet again, "call me Bran…"
Before she could finish, two thick walls rose up on either side of her. They came about even with her hips and were close enough that she had to stand very still to keep from bumping into either wall. A second later, two identical walls rose up in front and back of the confused young woman. She eyed the four walls that surrounded her, then looked up at Frank with a questioning expression.
Frank just shrugged and pointed upward.
The woman looked up above her and saw a square press moving down toward her. She just had time to throw her hands up to protect herself before the press forced her down into the square formed by the four walls. Slowly, the press continued downward until it was probably about at the level of the woman’s knees. Then, it began to retract, while the walls dropped back down into the edges of the platform.
Frank stepped forward and approached the platform cautiously. Sitting on top of it was the compacted inspector. The woman’s entire body had been compressed into a perfectly formed two-foot cube. Her face was clearly visible on the face of the cube, her eyes staring straight ahead. "Ms. Larken?" he asked nervously.
Suddenly, the big blue eyes turned in his direction and he was relieved to see her mouth move into a smile. "Brandy," she corrected him again, before asking, "So, is that it? What now? Off to the restoration center?"
"Well, yeah," Frank answered. He paused, as he seemed to consider something. "Although…"
"I do have an extension to the program that would allow for the cubed person to be taken to a recycling center and molded into something else."
She looked curious. "Something else?"
"Yeah, you know," he told her. "Like furniture…decorations…toys…"
"Toys?" she repeated.
"Sure," he nodded. "There are several templates in the program."
"Hmmm… Interesting." She seemed to give the concept some thought before turning her attention back to him. "Okay, Frank," she said, "there are a few things that need to be looked at."
"Okay," he nodded.
"First and foremost," she went on, "when I was first being pulled into the funnel, I felt a pinch. Nothing too bad, but it will have to be corrected. Also, the inflation went on a little too long. I was beginning to think I was going to pop before you pulled the hose loose." She smiled up at him again. "By the way, you did a great job of playing the nervous tour guide."
"Thanks," Frank told her, seeing no reason to tell her he hadn’t been playing.
Brandy went back to business. "Now, we’ll need to come up with a scenario that would get a person into this situation, of course." She thought for another few moments. "Still, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t recommend that your program be added to the Toon World database."
Frank couldn’t believe it. He had done it. He had dreamed of doing a scenario for the virtual world ever since he had first visited Toon World as a child. Finally, his dream was going to come true.
"Now, Frank." Brandy’s voice pulled him back to the situation at hand. He looked down at the cubed inspector, noting the mischievous glint in her eye, as well as her somewhat evil smile. "Tell me more about this... recycling center."