Posted by: Admin on Saturday, July 13, 2002 - 06:27 AM
Some treasures are hard to find, and harder to hold onto.
by Cleo Kraft
Shiny green metal rings surrounded the tall building just outside the window and I felt a hand grip me on the knee and I turned to face Gina, my date.
She was an attractive young brunette woman, mid twenties, five foot six, and dressed in a long red gegrothin. You know, the kind of outfit that clings only to the curves. Just the kind of gegrothin that girls wear on the outer worlds. The kind of outfit that shows no mercy to onlooking men.
She smiled at me and climbed up into my lap, causing some other patrons of the Mondar Kri restaurant to stare at us as if they weren't already. Gegrothin's attract the attention of men pretty well, especially if the woman wearing one is as beautiful as my date.
The restaurant slowly rotated, revealing a barren amusement park down
below as I glanced out the window for a moment.
Mondar Kri was the name of the world's biggest wooden roller coaster. It was built over forty years ago but it's closed now, of course, because of some laws passed a decade ago that prevents potentially life threatening rides from running anymore. So amusement parks all over the country closed up their thrill rides and some, like Martians Cove right here, turned their old roller coasters into museums and stuck fancy restaurants on top each wavy summit.
Mondar Kri is a pretty popular place for dates though, and also one of my favorite spots on Mars. I used to ride the old red and white painted coaster that lay below this multicolored neon rotating restaurant. I still remember the terror and anticipated excitement I had the first time my dad took me on that coaster.
I do miss those days.
I miss the good old days when roller coasters and ferris wheels were permitted. Sadly enough, there were just enough deaths over the years on those types of rides that many governments decided to put an end to it once and for all.
Now Mondar Kri is just a ghost ride. It's cars turned into dining booths and placed in restaurants like this one. Mighty flagpoles once stood here atop the crest of the biggest wooden roller coaster ever built, but now it's just a restaurant overlooking a dreary old amusement park that's more museum now than anything else.
"What are you up to now?" I asked her as she wrapped her arms about my
neck and kissed me briefly.
"Why don't we go back to my place?" she asked looking at her dainty silver watch.
"What's the hurry?" I asked her. "We had sex already this afternoon. Why don't you sit back in your own seat and eat your dinner? Come on. Get off my lap. You're making a scene. It's quite embarrassing you know. You shouldn't carry on like this in a place like this."
She climbed off me and sat down in her own chair and pouted with arms crossed.
"Now what's the matter?" I asked.
"I've only got another two hours," she said pointing at herself. "It's a rental, remember? God, Jack, if you paid two months salary for twelve hours in a body like this, you'd want to get the most out of it too, right? Come on. Anybody can eat dinner any time they want. Let's go back to your place for one more quick one. What? Why are you looking at me like that? I told you before, I'm not going to waste a good time. Look, I don't see what the big deal is. We've had sex twice today already. Once more couldn't hurt you, could it? Come on. Pay the check and let's go."
She was going by the name of Gina simply because that's the name of the body she rented, but her real name is Todd Angle. A guy that works in the auto shop with me. It's a long story, but basically the guy saved my life one day when the lift broke and a three ton car nearly crushed me to death. So I owed him a favor and today was his birthday so he came collecting. Oh, sure, I would have paid for the body rental but all he wanted from me was a good time as a woman for half a day. He says he's transgendered, which I think basically means he wants to be a woman. Well, he did save my life so what the heck. Besides, I was having sex with a woman, not a man, right? So at least I can still live with my conscience, at least on that level. All the same, I don't think I'll ever see Todd in the same light again after today.
Funny how a guy working at a body shop would go to another type of body shop to cram his mind into a woman's body. Old Doc Akorbson kind of got a kick out of it. We even swapped business cards just for laughs.
"Kile B. Akorbson, M.D. Biogenetic Neuroscientist - Transgender Specialist." That's what the card read, and the logo imprinted above his name was two blue and pink circles intertwined with a pair of brains with cartoon lips kissing one another. I don't know why they just didn't call him a swap doc, because that's what everyone else seems to call his profession.
I called the waiter over and paid the check. Then Gina and I headed out to my car.
"Why my place?" I asked her.
"Because, silly," she said. "You're place is closer to the swap doc. We'll have more time to fool around."
It was true. The swap doc was literally just around the corner from my house, though all these years I didn't care or pay it any notice until Todd came up with this idea for his birthday present.
We got in my car and headed off down the street. I pulled the throttle back and we lifted up into the air lane and zoomed off to my place.
The sex was great, but I still felt kind of guilty about it afterwards. I mean, after all, Gina was really Todd, my co-worker down at the shop. The body was really a natural born woman's body alright, but the mind inside was a man's and that kind of creeped me out every time I thought about it. Like I said, the sex was great though, so it kind of balanced out my feelings of guilt after awhile. I just ignored her words as we had sex, that's all. If she'd just shut up about how good it felt as a woman, it wasn't so creepy. So I made good use of the situation and had my fill of sex but when it was time to turn in the rental body, the poor woman was about pleading me to go criminal and help her steal it, but I talked her out of that. After all, she was just overcome by her feelings. The whole experience was just too much for Todd's old mind to handle I guess.
I sat on a sofa in the waiting room while Todd went in to see the body doc to get exchanged back to normal.
A woman sitting next to me holding a baby tapped me on the shoulder.
"Would you mind holding my little girl?" the woman asked. "I have to use the restrooms. If my husband comes back.... oh, forget that - he won't be back for ten minutes at least. Just please watch my little girl until I come back, okay?"
I looked around but nobody else was available in the waiting room to watch the infant, so I guess I had no choice. I didn't really want to hold a baby. I'm not really good with children, you see, and they make me uncomfortable, so I try to avoid even talking to them. So holding baby really made me nervous.
The woman quickly handed me her sleeping daughter and hurried off down
the hall to the restrooms.
The infant couldn't have been more than two years old at the most. She was dressed in a little pink cotton t-shirt with a frilly collar and sleeves and wore a plastic diaper and pink booties. Though asleep, she was sucking peacefully on a pacifier.
The baby yawned and the pacifier tumbled out onto my lap and bounced into the chair beside me.
Her eyes opened up and she looked right up at me and then to the left and right, looking for her mother.
"Don't scream," the baby girl said to me and I about jumped right out of my seat when she said it.
"You can talk?" I asked surprised.
"Yeah, so what's the big deal?" she asked. "Ain't you never seen re-born before?"
"I heard of it but I thought it was illegal, just like cloning," replied.
"Illegal to norms like you," she said involuntarily kicking her legs up and stretching her arms. "But guys with the know-how who got the dough can rig up an infant clone and swap for the right price and circumstances. Especially guys on the most wanted list if you catch my drift."
"You're telling me you were a GUY before?" I asked raising my eyebrows at the child.
"Yeah," she replied swinging her arm at me and slapping me in the stomach. "You're catchin' on quick, stranger."
"Well, why an infant?" I asked. "Why not just swap with an adult?"
"Adults can be made to talk," she answered. "But ain't no cop gonna give a two year old the third degree, right? So even if they suspect, all I got to do is bawl my head off and they'll think I'm just an innocent two year old girl. Perfect hide-out, eh?"
"But how do you know I'm not a cop?" I asked her.
"Trust me," she said. "I can tell. You ain't no cop. You're hands are too scratched up. You're a mechanic, right?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "So why are you bothering to blow your cover and tell me all this?"
"Just this," she said. "I've been hiding out for almost a year now, and I'm tired of being stuck this way and I want out. Now if you help me, I've got some money stashed away from a bank job I did awhile back and I think I can make it worth your while."
"So what am I supposed to do?" I asked. "Kidnap you or something?"
"No, stupid," she said. "My buddies will take care of that. You got a pen and paper handy? I have a number I want you to call. Tell them Vin Xentrok want's out of hiding. Got that? Now write down this number and code message . . ."
I held the infant in my left arm and pulled out a pen and a business card from my coat pocket (since I had no paper, a business card was going to have to do the job).
I wrote down the number she gave me and stuck the business card and pen back in my coat pocket.
Just then, the girl's mother came walking back into the waiting room.
"Oh, I see Holly's awake," the woman said walking over to me and taking the baby from me. "Was she behaving herself okay?" The woman reached down and picked up the pacifier off the chair beside me.
"Fine," I said nodding. "Just fine."
"Good," the mother said. "She's pretty good with strangers, don't you think? Kind of a shy and quiet little girl, but that's much better than how her older brother Jeffery was at her age. My husband's returning body he rented out to do some heavy lifting around the yard. We had to cut down and prune some trees and his back is just not fit for that sort of thing, and he is much too proud to ask someone else for help. Insists he does everything himself, so he rented an athletic body for the day. Kind of expensive if you ask me, compared to hiring help, but Jason's got to do things his way. Now I suppose he'll have body-lag and stay up all night. What's a woman to do? It's bad enough I've got one baby to deal with all night, now I've got my husband's body-lag to deal with for the next few days. Oh, here he comes now, pardon me. It was so nice of you to watch Holly for me. Thank you again, sir, but I must be going now."
A short man in a gray business suit came over and kissed his wife, then they both walked out the exit. As they did, I noticed little Holly giving me a thumbs up with a wink.
Todd came out next, looking kind of depressed.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"You wouldn't understand," he said sadly as we walked outside.
I knew he appeared happier when he was in that woman's body, but couldn't begin to imagine know how awful it made him feel having to change back to his own. I just knew it wasn't something I was comfortable talking about, so I let it rest.
I woke up the next day, Sunday morning, alone in my apartment.
Some of Todd's female clothes were still lying about on the bed beside me. He'd brought over a whole entire wardrobe of lingerie to try on and apparently left some of it behind in our haste to return to the body doc before the deadline.
I sat up in bed and thought about what the little girl, Holly, had told me last night about wanting to escape from her current situation.
On the one hand, I thought I might be able to get a reward for turning her in, but she only gave me a phone number and a strange cryptic message, so I didn't know where Holly actually lived, only the number to her accomplices. Besides that, Holly was right - if anybody turned her in, she'd just play like she was a real two year old girl and nobody would be able to prove anything. Perfect hide out but at the expense of freedom. She might as well be doing time in prison because her current situation is about the same thing anyway. I wonder if that goes through her mind when she's put in her crib and stares out through the bars.
I guess I can kind of understand why a crook would go for re-birth instead of just swapping with an adult body. The body cops are pretty good at catching swap criminals, but I've never heard of a swap criminal caught that was hiding out in a child's body. The laws that protect minors also protect swap crooks who'd rather trade up on adult life and take their chances as children than get caught and do hard time in prison.
Legally, only adults can swap with adults, and even then only for high price and limited time period. The governments around the world pretty much agreed to handling it that way to give people the technology they demanded as well as a certain measure of control the governments felt necessary to keep body swaps from getting out of hand.
I switched the vid-phone on sound mode only and dialed the number Holly gave me.
"Hello?" an older woman's voice answered on the other end of the line.
I read off the code message,"Can Johnny come out and play?"
"Oh, hang on a sec," the woman said and I heard her talk to someone else in a lowered voice. "Guy's using an old code. What do you want to do? . . . okay." She cleared her throat and then said,"Look. I don't know where you got that code from but it's changed."
"Well Vin Xentrok just wanted me to pass on the message that he wants out of hiding," I explained.
There was laughter on the other end of the phone, then the woman said,"Is that a fact? Well you ought to know better than to take the word of a baby. Vin wanted rebirth and that's what we delivered. Now unless you have something more important to tell me, I'm going to hang up."
"He said there was alot of money involved," I added.
There was a pause and then I heard the woman talking to someone again. Finally a nervous little boy's voice came back on the other end of the line and said,"Give me that code message, buddy."
"Can Johnny come out and play?" I said.
"Right," he said and paused to speak to the woman. "Betty, analyze that voice pattern, would ya?" Then he said to me,"You want to talk more about this, then meet me at Grant Park at noon. Bring an umbrella. Bye."
He hung up.
I hung the phone up and stood up and looked out the bedroom window. It was bright and sunny outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and yet this kid wants me to bring an umbrella?
Shrugging it off, I went out to my kitchen and ate some breakfast, then I got ready to go to the park.
I got there early. There was a soccer game going on in the field before the park bench I sat on. Junior league game I think.
There was a light breeze blowing through the oak trees to my left and right and some pigeons gathered along the bumpy asphalt trail, begging for scraps from passers by.
I sat there with a black umbrella lying on the bench in the seat beside me.
Off on the horizon over some more trees and the brown haze of the city, I saw a stream of busy air-cars dashing to and fro along the expressway.
An old fashioned air liner streaked across the sky towards the Hargron Mountains. Probably a nostalgia flight to Casino Keep.
I watched the soccer game for an hour or so and got up and walked over to sit on the ground under one of the oaks.
I set my umbrella beside me, this time leaning it up against the tree, and I nodded off to sleep.
I woke up as someone poked me with the end of my own umbrella.
I saw three children of about five to seven years of age. Two were blonde girls dressed in pink Sunday dresses, white socks and black flats. The other was a brown haired little boy who wore bluejeans, sneakers, and a black t-shirt. An old aged gray haired woman stood behind the children and waited.
"He don't look like no gangster," one of the little girls commented.
"He don't look like nobody important at all," her twin sister added.
"Hey buddy," the little boy said jabbing me in the ribs with my umbrella. "Give me the signal again."
"Can Johnny come out and play?" I said.
"Okay, okay," the boy said waving his hands for me to lower my voice. "Not so loud. You don't want everyone to hear, do you? Even an old code is still dangerous in the wrong hands. Now get up and pretend you know us. Like you're an uncle or something. Then we're all going to walk slowly to granny's car and I don't want you to say a word until I say so. Got that?"
I nodded and stood up, picking up my umbrella.
"You'd better give that to granny," the boy said taking the umbrella from me and handing it to the old lady. "She collects 'em."
We walked slowly down the asphalt trail, the two little girls leading the way, while the little boy walked beside me on my left, and the old woman to my right.
"Gretchen, pick up your feet, would ya?" the boy asked the girl on the left. "Loose that stupid strut. You're supposed to be a girl now, remember? And Emily, for God's sake, loosen up a bit. You're not Frankenstein's monster you know. Just act natural."
I turned to look at the old woman and she smiled at me and kept her head down as we walked along. She was wearing a white dress with little rose petal patterns all over. Her shoes were simple gray flats and she wore a wide brimmed gardener's sun hat.
"Body cop up ahead," the boy warned.
"He's got a scanner," the old lady said worriedly. "He'll catch me for sure. I knew I shouldn't have come along."
"He won't bother us," the boy assured her. "Now shut up and keep walking."
The body cop, dressed in a typical white uniform, waved a scanner rod back and forth as we approached him.
"Hold on there a second," the body cop said to us. He waved the scanner over the children's heads for a moment, then over mine and finally granny's.
"Anything wrong officer?" Granny asked as the body cop tapped the side of his scanner readout box.
"I don't know," the officer replied switching the device on and off and rattling it around a bit. "Battery must be going dead."
"Well, I hope you get that fixed," the granny said. "Those body thieves have to be stopped you know."
"Yes, yes," the officer said scratching his head. "Well you folks have nice day then."
"We will," granny assured him as we walked on towards the parking lot.
We walked up to a white hover-van and everyone climbed inside and the doors closed in behind us automatically with a hiss. The van rocked back and forth like a boat as it floated there and then granny pulled back the throttle and we accelerated up into the airway.
"I think introductions are in order," the boy said. "My name is Johnny Ergrond, and these two girls are Gretchen and Emily, my sisters. We're into the body exchange business and do alot of work for the Mob. Granny is just our driver, escort, and legal guardian but don't pay her no mind. Us kids are the real heart of this operation. Now who are you and what do you have to tell us about Vin Xentrok?"
"I'm Jack Larnstrom," I said handing him my card. "I also work in the body shop business, only not exactly the same type of work as you're doing."
"What did Vin tell you?" Johnny asked.
"He just wants out is all, and he said he's got some money stashed away from a bank robbery or something," I explained looking out the window at the cityscape stretched out below us. "I think he's tired of the situation he's in and wants to be an adult again. He said to call you."
"We can help," Johnny nodded. "But we can't just kidnap the infant. Her new father is pretty high up in the Government, you know. We rigged it that way to protect Vin the most. It's not going to be easy to get her out of there, let alone even get near her. We can swap her back, if that's what she really wants, but it's not going to be easy and we'll need someone to take her place." He stopped and looked up at me with smile,"You wouldn't be interested in volunteering would you? . . . No? Well then, we'll have to find someone else then."
"If you want my opinion," Gretchen said. "Leave Vin alone. He was too much trouble as a gang leader. I like his replacement, Ted, much better."
"That's right," Emily agreed nodding. "If Ted finds out we're even thinking of bringing Vinny back, he'll kill us all."
"But there's the money, too," Gretchen reasoned. "We sure could use some good money right now. Things have been kind of dead around the shop lately. Some new cash would be great about now."
"Money nothin'," Emily argued. "Vin's not worth it for the money."
"We could trick him into telling us where it's hid," Johnny suggested.
"Yeah!" Gretchen exclaimed. "That would work! Vin's easy to convince. We'll just trick him, that's all. We'll tell him we want to see the money first and THEN help him change back, but when he tells us, we'll just keep the money all to ourselves and leave him stuck there where he belongs, as helpless baby girl. Give him what he deserves. Trick him and leave him stuck the way he is. That's what I say."
"We'll think of something," Johnny assured everyone and turned to me. "Well, Jack, looks like we can take care of things from here. Since you gave me your card, here's mine. I think this bit of information you've brought us entitles you to a body swap or rebirth, free of charge."
I took his card and examined it. The logo was a stork with an eye-patch carrying a pair of infants surrounded by the lazy-eight infinity symbol. The card had the same phone number I'd been given already and it read: The Stork Inc.
"There's a new code message scribbled on the back," Johnny said. "I advise you to memorize it and destroy the card. Now I think our business is finished, so we'll let you go. Oh, and if you tell the body cops any of this, we'll find you and make your life miserable. Now good day, Jack."
The hova-van pulled back into the parking lot beside Grant Park and let me off.
I stood on the sidewalk and watched the van fly off back into the airway and disappear into a blur of traffic.
A hand gripped me on the shoulder and I turned around to see a redheaded teenage girl looking up at me with concern.
"What do you want with the Johnny Mob?" she asked stepping back and aiming her red purse at me as if it were a gun or something.
"Nothing," I lied.
She was wearing bluejean cutoffs, a pink t-shirt and some white ankle socks and sneakers.
"I'm giving you one more chance," she warned. "Now tell me what you want with the Johnny Mob."
"Nothing," I lied again stepping back and bumping into someone who stood behind me.
"Hose him," the girl said and whoever was behind me stuffed some pantyhose over my face and sprayed some rose scented perfume up my nose.
This story is part of a larger tapestry of Science Fiction adventures by Cleo that I call Trans-Planetary. I've got a couple more of them here to load up, or you can go to the old BigCloset and read them. I've never seen Gems of Ordon broken into chapters before, I did that because this software hiccups on files longer than about 55K. Cleo, I hope you don't mind, I didn't give them titles like I did the Kelly Girl chapters, but then I have Wanda's phone number. :) More of Cleo's work including some other Trans-Planetary Tales can be found on Fictionmania and Cleo's own website. Look at the Weblinks menu to your left. :)