"Verity stood naked before the panel, her face glistening with rouge, mascara and warm, liquid shame. She was afraid; terrified, in fact. Rumours were rife throughout the Facility. If the stories she'd heard from the other candidates were true, psycho-sexual reprogramming was a treadmill of agony; worse than the back alleys of the Red Zone."|
Copyright Transfemme, 2002.
Verity Sherman walked down the central colonnade of the Facility, a pretty young woman in a pastel yellow sundress, her full lips pursed with trepidation. It was Monday morning; the Committee was meeting at ten thirty-five to discuss her latest progress report. Verity noted the time with an anxious turn of her wrist. Attendance was mandatory, she couldn't afford to be late by even a few seconds. She quickened her pace to match the pounding in her chest.
The colonnade was a vast expanse of iridescent columns sweeping off into an alabaster limbo. Opalescent pillars loomed on either side, their crystal surfaces glimmering in the muted light. Verity could hear her heels clicking along the vast corridor, remote echoes in the brooding, marble stillness. A fresh summer breeze seemed to flicker along the Italian floor tiles, raising the hem of her dress.
It was a trick, of course. Like everything else in the Facility, the breeze was an illusion, a simple mirage redolent with the scent of grape and honey-suckle. Deception was the only truth in this house of vacant fantasies. Everything here was either a lie, a dream or a nightmare - although the boundaries between the three were somewhat obscure, Verity had come to realise.
In the three months since she'd entered the Program, Verity had been exposed to indignities without number: probes and penetrations; medical procedures which invariably left her shaken and tearful. The invasions never seemed to end. They'd explored her most intimate recesses with a barrage of wicked-looking instruments, delving and touching and pricking and poking until she'd begged them to stop, wailing like a child as each new device was inserted.
Still, there was something worse than all the violations she'd suffered over the past ninety days.
There were the Interviews.
Reaching the end of the colonnade, Verity entered an equally extravagant hallway decorated with Baroque oils - Rembrandts, Van Dykes, Rubens and hundreds of others she'd never heard of. The walls were covered with thick indigo velvet, lending the hall the appearance of some lavish private gallery. Verity wasted no time examining the artwork; she could think about improving her cultural literacy if she survived her probation. As it was, she'd be lucky to make it through the next twenty-four hours with her sanity intact.
Verity wasn't alone in her never-ending pilgrimage through the Hall of Wonders. Like every other candidate in the Reorientation Program, she had a bodyguard assigned to accompany her whenever she moved about the Facility. A combination security guard, escort and prison warder, he rarely spoke, other than to inform her which door to enter or what direction to take.
Verity looked shyly up at the man striding beside her. He was a big, heavy-set veteran in a black business suit, aged perhaps in his mid-thirties. He walked with the precise, measured step of a military serviceman. His dark, impassive face was masked by a pair of reflector sunglasses, enhancing his hard, disciplined bearing. The tag on his lapel read TYLER, F. Verity had often wondered what the 'F' stood for, but had never summoned up the courage to ask. She was under strict instructions never to engage the bodyguards in private conversation.
They walked past a chain of sumptuous Rococo sculptures depicting the Rape of Persephone ('rape' being the operative word in this case), arriving before an enormous oaken door, half as tall as a Los Angeles apartment block. Verity's gaze wandered up to the coat of arms mounting the portal. Painstakingly embossed on the sepia woodgrain was a silver serpent coiled around a cross. The letters 'TVC' were inscribed in gold leaf directly below the shield. Verity had never understood the significance of the crucified snake, but she thought she knew what the initials stood for.
The bodyguard stepped in front of her, his large frame blocking her view of the logo. He must have been at least four feet across the shoulders. Touching a finger to the side of his sunglasses, Tyler F spoke quietly into his comset.
"Miss Sherman's here".
Endless grey silence for several seconds, followed by an equally ominous click: hidden locks turning in varnished oak panel. Verity's knees weakened as she contemplated the reception awaiting her on the other side of that monstrous door. She was dizzy, light headed; almost feverish with fear and expectation. It was a consistent paradox: despite her misgivings, Verity always felt a thrill of excitement as she prepared to face the Committee.
The door opened, evidently of its own volition.
"Go in," Tyler told her dispassionately.
Stealing a final, calming breath, Verity stepped across the threshold.
The Committee Room was roughly the size of a European Nation. The titanic proportions never ceased to amaze her. Walls lined with cedar bookshelves rushed upwards like errant skyscrapers, their lines broken by a series of gigantic frescoes filled with battle scenes, tiger hunts and similar masculine subjects (the paintings were actually state of the art holograms, reproducing the originals right down to the crumbling plaster. As Verity had noted previously, everything in the Facility was an illusion). The thick red carpet was littered with antique furniture of virtually every period; Victorian chaise-longes vied with art nouveau sofas and coffee tables. The place had the feel of an Edwardian gentlemen's club, complete with the disapproving English butler (although such allusions would have been lost on Verity; history had never been her strong point, considering her background).
Picking her way through a forest of Chippendale easy chairs and stalwart black Grandfather clocks, Verity made her way to the far end of the room, where a long mahogany table lay before a row of tall French windows. Thirteen men were seated at the Committee Board, their forms silhouetted by the Autumn sunshine hazing in through the windows. The table was covered with lap-tops, legal files and drinking utensils.
There were a dozen new faces on the Interview Panel. Verity recognised Scott Freeman - the Executive Officer of the Committee - but the remaining twelve were unfamiliar to her. They were all cut from the same cloth, however; affluent young executives with leather jackets, five o'clock shadows and the coolest moves in the space-time continuum. Looks, money and attitude: a devastating combination.
Freeman himself was a supernaturally handsome man with Alpine features and the gaze of a white pointer. Seated at the central position, he dominated the entire room with his Herculean presence, an upstart god resplendent in all his glory. He wore a black leather shirt open to the chest, cuffs and pockets studded with gold. His hands were as smooth and hard as veined marble, giving the simultaneous impression of superhuman strength and breathtaking sensitivity. A silver-grey Macintosh iBook sat before him, jacked into a terminal in the middle of the desk.
Scott barely glanced up as Verity approached the Table, although she knew from prior experience that he was aware of everything that occurred in the Committee room. A silver-plated comset twined unobtrusively around his temple, his fingers toyed with a tiny grey palm consol, feeding data into the iBook. Leaning forward on his left elbow, he read from the laptop's LCD. His words were brief and clipped, matching the quasi-Edwardian decor of the room.
"Interview convened at 10.35 AM/ September 15/AST. Subject: Sherman, Verity, JN162054/19C. Category: 19C; Inductee (probationary). Program: Reorientation, level G7A. Authorisation: Freeman S/2051A16."
Scott paused to enter the information into the iBook's data base, then settled back into the ebony depths of his armchair, greeting the 'subject' with a vaguely wolfish smile. Verity felt her spine tense. His manner was taunting, self-assured, almost dismissive.
"Morning, Verity", he began, idly fingering his palmset, "you're looking considerably better than the last time we saw you". He made no move to offer her a seat. His eyes strayed from her face to her belly then up to her breasts. Verity shifted uncomfortably. The sundress was a wisp of fine yellow cotton, her figure must have been visible through the translucent fabric.
"Yes, thank you", she replied to his comment, "I've had a good week; Doctor Wanderly gave me something for the morning sickness." Nausea was one of the more common side effects of Tetragynozine. Most of the 'girls' in her dormitory had suffered some degree of physical discomfort during their transition. At the end of the day, genetic reconfiguration was simply another form of advanced chemotherapy. She'd been lucky to get off so lighty.
"Good", Scott said, absently clicking away on his palmset, "How have you been feeling - emotionally, I mean? Doc Wanderly noted some minor bouts of depression in your last psych report".
"I'm fine, thanks", she answered, a little more shortly than she'd intended. She'd been walking the razor's edge most of the week, knowing this meeting was just round the corner. She found these weekly interviews even more invasive than the Psych Unit's daily evaluations.
"Care to talk about it?" Scott enquired mildly, already knowing what her answer would be.
"No," she retorted with just a hint of petulance, then added in a more reasonable tone, "I've already discussed it with Doctor Wanderly". Which was true enough, Wanderly's mindprobes were as exhausting as her daily physicals. Scott nodded, as if he'd expected nothing better from her.
"Well, in that case, we'll get this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible," he remarked off-hand, still wearing that lupine grin. Verity braced herself, knowing what to expect now that the formalities had been completed.
"If you'll take off that dress, we can get started."
Verity inhaled sharply, dropping her gaze to the floor. Her previous encounters with the Committee did nothing to lessen the impact. This was the part of the interview she loathed more than anything else, the thing she'd been dreading all week. Worse still, refusal was out of the question; these impromptu stripteases were obligatory, stipulated in the probationary clauses of her contract.
God I hate this, she thought, feeling the blood rush to her cheeks.
Blushing all the way to her eyebrows, Verity unclipped the back of her dress and started to disrobe. A surge of frustration overwhelmed her system as she removed the frock. It wasn't fair - what right did they have to force her to strip down to her bra and panties this way? No matter how many times she performed this degrading ceremony, she could never adjust to the basic injustice of the situation.
Dropping the dress to the floor, Verity turned to face the Committee, her tummy fluttering with unwilling pleasure. Practically everything she had was on display - she could feel their eyes wandering over her nubile figure. Worse still, she was wearing a lacy white garter-belt with black suspender stockings. Her choice had been an impulse, a thoughtless whim as she'd dressed for breakfast that morning.
Or so she'd told herself.
Pulse racing in her throat, Verity crossed her hands over her cleavage, aware that her high-cut panties were on open exhibition. A perfect match for the garter-belt, they had floral patterns along the sides and a delicate lace trim encircling the waistline. Biting her lower lip in suppressed fury, she raised her face to meet the Committee's steady, probing stare. She stood trembling with expectation, her crystal blue eyes glittering like sapphires. Would they make her take off her brassiere again? They seemed to enjoy watching her squirm with anger.
"Lower your arms to your sides, Verity", Scott said, amiably reading her expression, "and come a little closer. Let's take a look at you".
Nooooo! Verity thought, but complied with his command, despising herself for giving in so easily. She stepped forward in her gleaming white underwear, high heels clocking on the varnished wooden floorboards. Her garters stretched along her thighs, tugging gently on the flimsy black stocking-tops. Her bra-strap felt uncomfortably tight across against her pale flesh, her breath came in shallow spurts. Scott nodded in satisfaction. The rest of the Panel scrutinised her with a kind of casual interest. They were enjoying this, she could see it in their mocking smiles.
She halted about six feet from the interview table, electric fire tingling in every nerve in her body. Here she was, posing before them in nothing but her bra, panties and nylons, a curvaceous young woman with wavy blond hair cascading down to her hips. At twenty-one, she looked perhaps five years younger. Her large eyes and small, pouting mouth lent her a soft, childlike appearance. Her cheeks glowed with a delicate rose flush: these weekly inspections were humiliating beyond words. Her mind swirled with conflicting emotions; shame, arousal, fear and outrage.
Scott looked her up and down, waving a hand in her general direction.
"Could you take off your bra please, Verity?"
And there it was.
I knew it, she thought, lips curving down into a sulking, little-girl frown. She paused for several seconds, eyes simmering with feminine wrath, then reached back to unclip her brassiere with both hands. Slipping the straps off her shoulders, she removed the sheer lace cups from her body, indulging the 'Guys' with an utterly heart-stopping view. Her breasts were high and firm and deliciously round. Their large, pink tips were throbbing in time to her racing heartbeat.
She stood with her arms by her sides, the bra swaying gently from her right hand. She felt totally defenceless before their ravenous, masculine gaze. Her nipples were swelling with arousal, she had to fight down the urge to cover them with her red-glossed finger-tips.
"Well", Scott began, leaning back in his chair, "you seem to be making exceptional progress, Verity". He spoke in an infuriatingly superior tone of voice, a rich young god used to getting anything he wanted. He raised his eyebrows disarmingly, as if seeing her stripped to her pants and stockings was the most natural thing in the world.
"Thank you", Verity replied, her face perfectly composed despite the bright spots standing out on her cheeks. She knew Scott was listening for the slightest hint of rebellion in her answer. All of them were. That was point of the interview; to decide how well she was adjusting to her new gender. Anatomically speaking, the 'gynozine therapy had eliminated all traces of masculinity from her physique: indeed, she appeared considerably more 'feminine' than any biological female her age.
Needless to say, the psychological aspects of the process were considerably more complicated. A woman was an extremely complex and enigmatic being; at once passive and rebellious, docile but wayward, innocent yet sensual. Three months of Tetragynozine could alter human DNA, irrerversibly transforming a twenty one year-old male into a nubile, adolescent girl, but it couldn't reverse two decades of social conditioning. At the end of the Program, Verity was still exhibiting chronic symptoms of gender rejection, secretly resenting the submissive role she was being forced to play.
Scott was consulting his iBook, scanning through her personal files.
"Your medical reports look rather promising. Chromosomatic structure stabilised, reproductive and endocrinal systems approaching normal parameters. Neural implants functioning." He paused, reading down the screen a few lines, nodding to himself. "Latest test results suggest that you'll start ovulating within the year. Not bad, considering the time frame we were working with. Should be able to take you off the 'gynozine within the next month."
"Does ... does that mean that I'll be released from the Program soon?" Verity ventured, hoping against all logic that this ordeal was finished and she'd have her life back. She realised immediately that her voice had sounded too eager, too ... reproachful. On reflection, she shouldn't have brooched the subject at all, it would only raise doubts as to her suitability. As she later discovered, no one was ever truly released from the Program. Even after reconditioning.
"You don't like it here, Verity?" Scott asked, eyes wandering over her breasts. The rest of the Committee were staring at her, their expressions ranging from wry amusement to open suspicion. Several were making notes on their palmsets, others exchanged comments through cupped palms. Verity wilted, feeling small and naked and vulnerable.
"No - I mean yes," she stammered frantically, losing track of her thoughts as the words tumbled over each other, "I've never been happier than I am now - honestly. I ... was just wondering what happens next." She looked down at her gleaming red shoes, hating the hesitant tremor in her voice.
"We've decided that you need a little more time to adapt to your changing circumstances", Scott commented, returning his attention to the screen, "your psych evaluations have us a little concerned, Verity. According to Doctor Wanderly, you've having trouble accepting your new designation."
"My ... designation?" Verity asked uncertainly. She didn't like the direction the conversation was heading. She seemed to be getting in deeper over her head everytime she opened her mouth.
"Your new gender", Scott explained, "your most recent tests confirm that you're resisting your feminine status. 'In denial', as they used to say back in the nineties. That's not unusual at this stage of the treatment. Most of our candidates experience some form of transitionary dysphoria following their re configuration."
He spoke down to her like a school master addressing a slow and none-too-promising student. Verity felt a fresh wave of anger strike her head on. He was trying to confuse her with a lot of psychological jargon and hyperbole. As if being required to strip to her underpants wasn't enough, now she was being patronised; treated like an idiot, an imbecile. A Nute.
"In short", he concluded, "you don't like being a girl".
Verity opened her mouth to protest her innocence, refute his allegations, but Scott cut her off with a wave of his hand.
"Don't bother denying it, Verity. We all saw the look you gave me when I asked you to take off your bra. You hate these interviews, hate being made to undress in front of a bunch of strange men, hate exposing your body every time you step into this room. You hate my smug, contemptuous attitude, and most of all - you hate being treated like a woman."
Verity said nothing for several moments, unable to dispute this bald-faced pack of truths. Everything he'd said had been correct. Standing here with nothing but a pair of panties and a garter belt to hide her shame, Verity's anger dissolved into moist, humiliated defeat. She began to nod her head slowly.
"I don't like being a girl", she murmured, mostly to herself. She struggled to control her emotions, knowing that they had been expecting some display of weakness. She'd broken down six times over the past month (each incident no doubt recorded in Wanderly's daily report). Part of it had been the nausea, the constant stress of her treatment. But it was more than that. She used to be so much stronger: she'd never cried before her reassignment, not even when her mother had died, nine years ago. Now she seemed to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. She forced herself to look up at them, despising her vulnerability, her submissive, feminine nature.
Scott beamed with mock sympathy, the very paragon of understanding.
"Sudden mood swings," he said in a conciliatory tone, "very common at this point of the therapy. Increased oestrogen levels, emotional instability, sensitive nipples. You can expect to feel this way at least once a month."
Verity acknowledged his comments with another hesitant nod, her lower lip trembling with dismay. How had she come to this: quivering and half naked before a group of ogling, self-satisfied males? She was proving them right, confirming everything they had thought about her. Frail, insipid, powerless. A typical woman.
"That's a lot to deal with", Scott continued, spreading his hands magnanimously, "that's why we're willing to give you all the time you need to adjust". He was literally glowing with generosity, his expression that of an absolute monarch conferring a supreme favour on a pauper.
"What do you mean?" Verity asked apprehensively. She stifled her emotions by an immense act of will. Something was coming, something she hadn't been expecting. What did they have in mind? More tests; an extension of her probation? Another month of nausea, depression and anxiety? She had to calm down, compose herself. Prepare for whatever tribulations they had planned for her.
"We're transferring you to the Playhouse," Scott told her. His canine smile broadened, his eyes gleamed with malicious joy.
Verity's lips parted in a sudden alarm, a frigid charge ran the length of her spine. He couldn't be serious! They couldn't send her to the Playhouse so soon, she'd only been in the Program three months. She'd barely completed her metamorphosis. She had no experience as a female, physically or emotionally. She simply wasn't ready for reconditioning. Couldn't they see that?
"The Playhouse?!" she cried, recovering her voice at last, "Scott, I've only been a woman for a couple of weeks, I haven't even finished with the 'gynozine! You said I wouldn't start ovulating for another year!!"
"Our specialists say you're a prime candidate for reconditioning, Verity. Based on their reports, the Psych Unit has recommended you for intensive psychosexual reprogramming. Doc Wanderly approved your transfer himself."
Verity gaped in open shock, poised - literally - at the brink of terror. She knew precisely what 'psychosexual reprogramming' meant. Hot flushes rushed through her smooth, trim belly. How could this be happening? How could they have made this decision without even consulting with her? It was her life, her future, her body.
"Don't I have any choice in this?" She wailed, making no attempt to hold back her tears.
"Yes", Scott answered, thoughtfully rubbing his chin, "you can go back to living on the street and scrounging for food through garbage cans."
"That's no choice at all!!" Verity wept in near-hysteria, "I can't go back to the Red Zone now! I'll die out there!!" She looked from face to face in a state of rising panic. Scott cleared his throat.
"There's no need to be so apprehensive about the transfer," Freeman told her patiently, "it may be difficult to believe at this point, but the decision was made in your best interests. At the end of the day, we're only trying to help you".
"Help me?! You're denying me my most basic human rights".
"We're denying you nothing", Scott answered evenly, "you've always been free to come and go as you please. There are no prisoners here". Not in any physical sense. The Facility had no need for cell-blocks or razor wire to contain its inmates.
"You can't make me do this", Verity sobbed, wiping her face with a small right hand, "it's just not right".
Scott felt the moment approaching, that point of absolute surrender he'd been watching for since the interview commenced. He changed tack seamlessly, reminding the girl of her legal obligations, playing her fears and anxieties like a violin.
"This is what you wanted, Verity," he said, folding his arms across his chest, "you signed on for the Program of your own free will. We have your name in triplicate." Scott confirmed this remark by turning the laptop around to face her. Verity's vision blurred momentarily as she looked toward the monitor. The screen displayed an image of her admission form. The picture magnified itself automatically, revealing her signature at the bottom of the page. In triplicate.
The contract was suddenly replaced by a photograph of a young man in his late teens; a thin, emaciated youth with tangled brown hair and hollow, beaten eyes. His face was angular and bruised, his lips split from a recent fight. A large, suppurating wound disfigured his jaw line. Verity looked away, unable to meet that broken, hopeless gaze. Her other self: the boy she'd been before her induction at the Facility. Another lonely, aimless refugee from the gangs and poverty of the Red Zone.
"Is that what you want, Verity?" Scott asked quietly, "do you want to return to the ghettoes?"
"No", she replied, her final shred of self-esteem torn away. She was trapped, snared, beaten. There was no escape, no way out. Her memories of the streets were as vicious as the edge of a shattered mirror. There were far worse things than reconditioning: she'd suffered most of them out in the Zone. Descending into that nightmare once more was unthinkable. Clothed in a woman's body, she'd be dead inside a week. Verity crumpled like a crystal ornament, reduced to a hopeless, pleading child.
"Please, Scott", she wept, covering her face with both hands, "please don't send me back, Scott. I'll do anything to stay here. Anything!" And at that second, she would have been willing to endure any indignity, any insult, any disgrace, to stay on at the Facility. She wavered from foot to foot, shoulders heaving with desperate tears. Her eyeliner ran down her flushed cheeks, heavily smudged by her fingers.
Freeman regarded the girl with growing interest. Breakdowns of this kind were nothing new for him. Verity was exhibiting all the behavioural characteristics he'd come to associate with gender transition: frustration, anxiety, trepidation; a belief that she was being unfairly victimised. In that respect, she was no different to five hundred other candidates he'd screened over the last two years.
However, there was something different about her, some quality so insubstantial, so ethereal that even the Psych Unit had failed to pick it up. Whatever it was, he'd been sensing it at some instinctive level for weeks. Couldn't pin a name to it, but his curiosity (along with his libido) had been pricked. This one would bear watching.
"Verity", Freeman said as gently as possible, "you have nothing to fear. The Playhouse isn't a bordello, you won't be treated like a sex slave." Not exactly, he thought, savouring the smooth contours of her breasts, the straining peaks of her nipples. Sexual slavery was an understatement where the Playhouse was concerned. Let's face it, even the word 'rape' was too mild a term to describe what she was facing.
The psyche evaluations had been right about one thing, at least. Verity Sherman was the perfect candidate. Passive, self-deprecating and completely open to exploitation. Scott regarded her with a growing sense of anticipation. This was a special case indeed; he could almost smell the fear emanating from her pores like an exquisite French perfume.
Meantime, the Perfect Candidate was standing before him virtually naked, her face glistening with rouge, mascara and sweet, liquid shame. Scott's words had done little to reassure her. Rumours were rife throughout the Facility. If the stories she'd heard from the other candidates were true, psychosexual reprogramming was a treadmill of agony; worse - in some respects - than the back allies of the Red Zone.
"I'm so scared ..." she whispered.
Now, Freeman thought, sensing that the moment had finally arrived. It was time to play his hand, home in like a barracuda on a death dive. He had to strike now, seize the prey while she was frightened, confused and alone. Before she had an opportunity to reconsider her options - slim though they were.
"Verity", he said, spreading his palms wide, "just for a second ... think of what we're offering you. You'll probably live longer than anyone sitting at this table. You'll sleep between satin sheets, surrounded by luxury beyond anything you can imagined. You'll never go cold, or hungry, or thirsty - ever again. You'll be pampered, indulged and spoilt like an only child. You'll never need to worry about money or food or anything else, because we'll take care of your every physical need.
"For the rest of your life"
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