“I hope you know that you’re putting me in a real bind here, Audrey.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m really sorry about this.” I was standing across from Helma Lede, executive agent for the modeling agency of which I worked. Debuting at the young age of sixteen, she went on to make a modest career of it before retiring at thirty-six. Now in her early forties, she prided herself in teaching the next generation. For all the talents my body possessed, they were null and void if not for Helma’s exemplary marketing skills.
Though the years had not been too kind, she still managed to hold her own in the looks department. She went to great lengths to preserve the silkiness of her hazelnut skin, and her auburn hair was shaped upward in a youthful pixie-cut. Her ears had been altered to look more pointed, and each lobe was fitted with a gold ring large enough to slip one’s finger through. Gazing lower, I could make out the creases where her tube top and shorts had been painted on – a specialized material just thick enough to conceal her womanly secrets from view.
She was lounging across from me in a thatched hammock suspended from the ceiling of her office, her bare feet pushing against the edge of her desk, causing her body to sway back and forth with each movement of her legs. “Soul searching is one thing, but do you really need a whole three weeks to do… whatever it is you’re off to do?”
“It’s a four day trip each way, boss. That realistically gives me just under two weeks to get things done. Plus, I need to touch base with my grandfather…”
“Alright, alright; no need for the drama. Everyone should have a chance to go home now and then. Only next time, try to give me a bit more notice?”
“I understand. Thank you so much for this.” I stood up, making my way toward the door when she cleared her throat.”
“I didn’t say we were done. There is still the matter of that incident you had a week ago.”
Shit. It wasn’t that I had somehow forgotten; it was that I truly had no desire to bring it up considering the memories of what happened were not my own. Astertis had deposited them deep into my subconscious as a kind of going-away gift, yet I knew if I tried to invoke them, the ensuing assault on my senses would likely result in a mess. It certainly wasn’t a thing that my boss needed to witness.
“You listening, Audrey?”
“As I was saying, your sudden break from tradition managed to put a nasty tear in one of the costumes. While I can overlook something like that, what I cannot overlook is your sudden enthusiasm to jerk off one of our recruits during the middle of a scene.”
“Boss, with all due respect-”
“No, allow me to explain. There have been comments about you by a few of our clients. Apparently, you’ve taken a habit to… cleaning yourself following the end of a session like some kind of dog. That’s not exactly what I would call professional, now is it?”
She had a point. While it hadn’t truly been my fault given the circumstances, I probably should have handled things a bit better. Taking a deep breath, I knelt down with my hands locked firmly together. “I was wrong, boss. Please forgive my sudden departure from your teachings.”
The heartfelt plea seemed to satiate her, for she smiled and walked over to help me up. “At ease, darling. Identifying the issue is but a first step. If you find you need a bit of help, Auntie Helma is here to offer you… let us call it a rehabilitation program.”
Ah, crap. She always gets this way when a new project crosses her mind. “R-rehabilitation?”
“There is something of an untapped market on the flip-side of the talent industry. Acts of a more explicit nature, while in high demand, can be something of a struggle to produce for reasons that I’m sure are not lost on you, Audrey.”
“Y-Yeah,” I nodded. “I wasn’t really in favor of it myself…”
“Might I ask what changed your mind?”
“Call it a spiritual journey of sorts…”
“Sex as spiritualism; I like it. Now then, though it has taken a bit of doing on my part, I finally managed to secure a pass from local counsel to launch a sister agency. They were even kind enough to lend us a new toy for the occasion.”
“You’ll understand when you see it.” Helma led me to a shelf on the far side of the room where a black box had been covered with a clear sheet I recognized as hardened sap. The box, however… “Do you know what this is, Audrey?”
A glass lens had been fitted to each of the box’s four sides. Two of them were placed opposite each other and identically sized, though the other two varied with one larger than the other. Sensing my inherent confusion, Helma lifted away the sheet.
“What you are looking at is a new piece of alchemy called a vision imprinter. The current design is a tad simple, but here’s how it works. Light passes through one of two lenses into a specially crafted lattice crystal. When magic is applied to the crystal, that light is amplified and forced out the other lens. Do you get the idea?”
“I suppose I do, but why the differently-shaped lenses here?”
“Think of it as a scaling tool. Light which passes through the smaller lens is then magnified threefold once it passes through the larger lens. It takes a lot more magic to power the lattice, but the effect is phenomenal when done properly.”
“Does that mean you’ve already tried it out, boss?”
“Indeed, I have.” She pulled a scroll from the lower shelf and handed it to me. Unrolling it revealed a meter-long, full body tapestry of one of my colleagues in what appeared to be blue ink. However, when I traced my fingers across the page, it felt as if the lines were somehow etched or cut into the paper itself.
“The precision of it… could a device like that really create something like this?”
“It certainly is not without its faults. Take a look at her face. The imprinter can make three passes in a single second, but it takes more than one hundred passes just to create a sufficient level of detail. Very few models can hold a pose like that for more than thirty seconds. I would say you are one of the exceptions.”
“Is that why you want me for this… new agency project?”
“Consider it a mutually-beneficial partnership. You can get your rocks off while I get a bit of research done on behalf of the counsel, as well as a tidy profit. What do you say to that? Are you in?”
Normally I would have said no, chosen not to get involved. Unfortunately, a part of me knew that if I did so now, it would only raise more questions. Then there was that other part of me, the part which had been freshly awakened by the meddling of my bastard grandmother.
“Alright, boss. I’m in.”
“Splendid! By the way, since you’re off the clock starting tomorrow morning, you can join me at the shoot we’re performing later this evening.”
“That’s a little much, isn’t it!?”
“I’m not asking you to perform this time around. Simply observe the process and give a bit of insight as to what might be improved upon. I mean, you are a practitioner of the White Arts too, are you not?”
I couldn’t help but sigh at her insinuation. “I understand, boss. I do owe you, after all.”
“Good girl. You may leave now.”
“Thank you.” Letting myself out into the hall, I slumped against the opposite wall for a second to collect myself. What were you thinking, Audrey!? There’s no way I can do something like this! Why did Astertis have to get me involved!?
Suddenly, out the corner of my eye, I noticed somebody was watching me. When I turned my head, however, she had darted back around the corner. Curious, I made my way over to her. “Are you alright, Karisa?”
Karisa Parth was a mousy girl in her late twenties who served on the agency’s production team. She had this bookish, nerdy aesthetic to her which would have seemed out of place to the casual observer. That said, she was one of our most talented illustrators.
“S-Sorry for spying on you, Audrey.”
“No, it’s fine. Was there something you needed from me?”
“Again, forgive me for eavesdropping but… Did madame Lede show it to you…?”
“Do you mean the vision imprinter?”
“Yeah… that.” She had a sketchbook against her chest, and I watched as she began to grip it tighter.
“I wouldn’t worry about it much. You’re a lot faster and more colorful than some machine.”
“That is… I mean… Could you come with me, Audrey…?” She then led me into an empty production room she knew would be relatively soundproof. “Listen… The truth is, I don’t trust myself…”
“What do you mean, exactly?”
“It took me years to reach my current level, and this contraption manages to usurp all of that in a manner of minutes! So what if it can’t capture color yet!? Give it another year or two and… and…!”
“Karisa, calm down. It’s going to be alright.” I placed a hand on her shoulder. “When sculpture became the ‘in’ thing, it only served to make paintings that much more valuable. Think of it this way: when everyone has a copy, it’s the genuine article that’s one-of-a-kind.”
“Come on, surely you’re better than this?”
She hesitated a little before pressing her hands into a nearby table. “This here is my domain, Audrey. I could have done a hundred other things, but this is the path that I chose. Being able to own it allows me to dictate the terms surrounding it. For something or someone to encroach on that is unforgivable.”
“A device still needs a user, Karisa. If said user lacks the experience or perspective necessary to the craft… How about this? Why not train yourself to master the alchemy?”
“I’m already versed in the process. I haven’t told madame Lede, but I can perform the imprinting process faster and cheaper than her machine can.”
“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “If you’re that talented, why not bring it up with her before tonight’s performance?”
“I mustn’t! I mean, if the counsel were to find out, they could seek damages for unauthorized reproduction. I’d be throwing my entire career down the drain. So, until it can hit the mainstream, I’m afraid that mum’s the word…”
“Forgive my ignorance on the subject…”
“It just isn’t fair, you know?” Karisa began to make fists with her hands. “The son of a bitch who brought the device into the agency even had the gall to criticize my medium. It didn’t matter that he had no idea I was an illustrator, you just… You just don’t do that!”
“Karisa…” How can I help her…?
“Don’t worry about me.” She reached up to wipe a tear from her eye. “Being able to air out my grievances was enough. So, thank you.”
“You’re a friend, Karisa. I wanna do right by you. Therefore, when I attend tonight’s shoot, I’m going to look into a few things on your behalf. If I know the boss the way I think I do, then I know she’s not one to be deceived by common trickery. Audrey Songbird is on the case!”
“You… really mean it…?”
Karisa did her best to put on a smile. “Again, thank you… I’m going to get back to work. Take care.” With that, she set off into the hall, and I made my way home. A bit of me-time was necessary in the wake of what was to come. I just hoped that Cass wasn’t having as many issues as I seemed to be.
* * *
A few hours later and I found myself back at the agency with a satchel over my shoulder. I made sure to pack the essentials – some water, a change of clothes – not that I had much inclination to make use of them. Helma spotted me almost immediately, motioning for my approach.
“I see you’re right on time. You’re on good terms with Marius, aren’t you?” Marius and I had only worked on a small handful of projects together, though never anything like this. His build was firm, strong, perhaps a little bulky. His pointed ears appeared far more natural than the augmented ones of my boss and his skin a tad lighter.
“Always a pleasure to do business with the beautiful Audrey Songbird.”
“Fantastic!” Helma clapped her hands together. “Marius, please brief Audrey on the process and show her around. If you’ll excuse me, I have some prep work to attend to.” She made her way across the room toward a man in white scholar’s robes. That must be the alchemist…
“Shall we get started?” asked Marius.
“Yeah… Let’s do that.” He took my hand and brought me behind a partition used for changing.
“So what brought you into the fold, sweetheart?”
“Oh! I just needed to expand my horizons a little. I’m still not exactly sold on the idea…”
“It’s a lot like diving into an ocean versus diving into a pond. There’s anxieties to be had in both, but if you can manage one, surely the other will follow. For now, just have fun with it.”
“Right, right…” I grabbed the water from my satchel and proceeded to gulp it down. First the body swap and now this…
“Hey, do you want me to grab you something else?”
“It’s fine, Marius. So, does it get any better the second time around?”
He paused a moment before saying, “If I’m in good company, then there’s no pressure. That said, all the new faces are making it harder on me.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, in what way?”
“You have to make a good first impression all over again.”
Before I could press further, I was interrupted by Helma crying out, “Where the hell is Jeanette!?”
“I’ll go check on her!” announced a staff member. The alchemist frowned, whispering something in Helma’s ear.
“Does that new first impression have anything to do with the new methodology?” I asked.
“That isn’t any concern of mine, if I’m being honest.”
“Where burning the candle at both ends here!” shouted Helma.
Suddenly, the staff member returned, his face deathly pale. “Ma’am, it’s terrible! Jeanette appears to have collapsed in her dressing room!”
“It seems she was fighting an illness over the past few days. We’ve called for a doctor, but there’s no way she’ll be able to perform tonight!”
“With all due respect, didn’t something like this happen a few weeks ago?”
“That’s right… Attention, everyone! I’m announcing a moratorium on tonight’s proceedings until we can figure out the cause of this sudden outbreak. I want a full inspection of the facility. Call in some experts if need be.”
As people began to scramble, my eyes were again fixated on the alchemist. He was putting away his equipment, and it almost looked as if he were scolding the boss. She was trying her best to retain her composure, though I could tell things were going downhill fast.
“I’ll do it!”
“Are you serious?” Marius mumbled next to me. Helma raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“I promise there won’t be any incidents this time. All I want is a chance to set things right. Please, boss.”
“You have a lot of nerve, Audrey… Very well. Marius, get her ass into a robe on the double!”
“Yes, ma’am!” He shut the partition and turned to me. “I really hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“What choice did I have? Just tell me what’s on the agenda and I’ll make a miracle happen.” With that, I began to disrobe in front of him.
“For starters, you and I are going to be naked.”
“I understood as much. What next?”
“If you want the blunt truth, I’ll be pressing my blunt object into you over the course of the shoot, Audrey.”
Talk about mincing one’s words… “Alright, that much should have been understood as well.” I was halfway into my robe when I reached for my water. “It can’t be any worse than folding myself up all the time.”
“Audrey, have you ever had sex while a third party was watching?”
I hesitated. “How about I save that answer for after the shoot?” Taking a long drink, I did my best not to blush, which only served to stimulate the man’s curiosities. The bulge in his robe was large enough to rival my own. On second thought, this actually could be kind of fun.
“Places, people!” Helma was on the war path, barking orders left and right. Props were put into place, and chalk marks were etched into the floor to mark the boundaries of the imprinter’s front lens. A tapestry was placed six feet away, aligned carefully with the larger back lens.
The alchemist took a golden key from his pocket, placing it in a notch at the top of the imprinter. “Everyone, please keep clear! This boundary right here is now a kill zone!”
Is he serious about that? Just what the hell kind of contraption needs a buffer area? Before I could inquire further, Helma approached with a makeup tray. “Thanks you for letting me do this, boss.”
“Audrey, are you one hundred percent okay with this? Once you’re up there, you cannot waver from your role.”
“I’ll be fine.” It doesn’t help that I really could use a good fuck right now…
Helma’s strokes were quick and professional, and with that, the time had come. Marius was already sprawled across a bed, ready to put on a show unlike any other. Therefore, it was only natural that I try and do the same. Silence fell across the room, and Helma placed her right hand in the air. Three… Two… One…
TO BE CONTINUED…