The rain had eased off and was steaming from the tarmac by the time Eliza breezed out of the studio building and crossed the car park. A cooling breeze was the only thing that prevented the heat of the early afternoon from becoming unbearable, overhead the sky was a clear blue and the sun blazed mercilessly without a cloud in sight.
Though the journey from the lobby to the car was a matter of only a few seconds, Eliza dreaded this part of her day more than any other and always armed herself with sunglasses, bottled water and an elegant silk fan decorated with twisting and turning Koi carp. The first two items were simply a part of the image she was sure a modern and upwardly mobile celluloid star should portray. But the latter had been a gift from an anonymous admirer; while she had never found who the mysterious source of the fan might have been, it was still the first glimmer of recognition she had ever received from her public.
Eliza had never stopped to ponder the irony of having been sent a fan, by a fan; but then she had seldom been known to read between the lines, or anything at all for that matter.
Despite wearing as little as possible without being in danger of arrest, Eliza found that she was still more than a tad hot and bothered. The scene which she had just finished shooting had not been easy and tempers had frayed before the thing was finally in the can. Her vest top was bothering her; the shorts she had chosen left her legs at the mercy of the sun and boots, which had enchanted her from the window of a shoe shop, were now threatening to rub blisters on her heels.
The last thing she needed to see were the two men in suits loitering in-between herself and her car, but there they were all the same. In concession to the hot weather, both men had removed their jackets and were carrying them over their arms; they wore short sleeved white shirts and black ties, looking very much like the kind of religious nutter that turned up on ones doorstep armed with magazines and warnings of impending damnation. As she got closer, Eliza saw that the two were Japanese, carrying briefcases and apart from being coatless, showed little sign of being bothered by the heat.
All at once one of the men caught sight of Eliza and began pointing in her direction whilst making loud proclamations in his native tongue. The second man, whom Eliza realised was slightly older than his excited colleague, turned on him and issued what she assumed was a reprimand. As soon as the first man had visibly clamed down and was engaged in staring at his feet in a way that put her in mind of a scolded young boy, the second turned her way and offered a polite bow.
Eliza bowed back in what she hoped was the right manner and would have asked what the pair were doing hanging around her car, if the older man had not jumped in on her first.
‘Good afternoon,’ the man’s English was accented, but otherwise perfect. ‘You are Miss Aukerman? Miss Eliza Aukerman, actress and model?’
Eliza nodded; it was a long time since she had been called a straight up actress and the man’s polite manner had caught her a little off guard.
The nod was greeted with a smile and another in return.
‘May I introduce myself,’ the man went on. ‘I am Mr Nakemura, and this,’ he pointed at his younger companion, ‘is Mr Shima, my junior colleague.’ nakemura retrieved a smart black wallet from his jacket pocket and presented it to Eliza with a gesture of pride and reverence.
‘Thanks,’ she said as she accepted the card, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have one of my own to give you…’
‘No matter,’ Nakemura breezed past the issue, ‘such small matters cannot be allowed to stand in the way of business.’
‘Yes, business,’ Nakemura smiled again, ‘Mr Shima and I have a proposal which we would like to offer you; it is possibly very lucrative for you, but also a very private matter. Is there a place where we may speak in private?’
The waitress deposited three bottles of beer on the table and disappeared, leaving Eliza and her two companions alone in the booth. From the expression on the woman’s face, Eliza had been sure that everyone who saw them was getting the wrong impression. She tucked her long black hair behind her ears and took a sip of her beer, trying to look as aloof and refined as she could manage whilst Nakamura spoke for both himself and Shima once again.
‘You have heard of Oshimasu Incorporated Enterprises?’
‘Who hasn’t,’ Eliza nodded. OIE was a household name the world over, a sprawling Japanese corporation that had massive holdings and influence not only in its home nation but also throughout almost all developed nations on the face of the earth. Like most companies in of its size and scope, it was perhaps an easier task to list things that OIE did not involve itself in rather than attempt to recount the diverse fields in which it manufactured, produced and innovated. When one switched on the TV there was an advert for their products. Hospitals were stocked with their medical apparatus as well as administering their drugs to patients. The company even held large shares in a number of major studios and supported some of its products with films and series that were at worst little more than expensive adverts themselves.
‘Then we are one step on the way already,’ beamed Nakamura. ‘I will assume also, that you are acquainted with the “Dream Princess” range, which has been marketed with great success over the past decade?’
Much like the previous question, Eliza would have had to have lived under a particularly big rock if the answer was no. The Dream Princess range, which Nakamura referred to were possibly the most popular children’s toys in the world and a merchandising phenomenon that seemed to know no bounds. The Princesses in question were a series of fashion dolls, each with a distinctive theme and look; and an extensive range of accessories, each sold separately, of course. Kids and collectors alike snapped these up attracted by the lifelike quality of the dolls and the clever planning that had gone into each one. Rather than creating one doll and selling for it different outfits, an astute soul at Oshimasu had instead decided that every different Dream Princess would be unique in its facial features and skin tones. The surfer Princess was a blonde and tanned California girl, whilst the special edition Juliet Princess created to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of Shakespeare was dark-skinned Mediterranean beauty.
‘Then you are also familiar with the Dream Princess doll known as Iyesha?’
At the mention of the name, Shima suddenly seemed to take a more active interest in the conversation and leaned forward as if trying to involve himself further.
‘Yeah,’ Eliza paddled back through her memories, ‘that’s the mermaid?’
‘That is right,’ Nakamura nodded, ‘Dream Princess Iyesha is a mermaid who dwells beneath the ocean waves, swims with the whales and the dolphins and has the voice of an angel with which she sings upon the top of a coral reef.’ Despite being unable to speak English, Shima had evidently recognised the lines Nakamura was quoting and now it was his turn to nod his head in agreement. Though she could not recall the last advert she had seen for the doll that Nakamura was enthusing about, Eliza was pretty sure he had just recited the script verbatim.
‘And…?’ Eliza let the question hang in the air.
Nakamura glanced round from where he had been giving a stern look to Shima, who was once more getting quite excited.
‘And just what does Dream Princess Iyesha have to do with the business proposition you were talking about?’
‘Ah, yes,’ Nakamura was back on track in an instant. ‘Dream Princess Iyesha has a great deal to do with the proposition, as you put it.’ He produced his briefcase from beneath the table and pulled out a wad of glossy photos, which he spread out on the table like an oversized pack of cards. ‘But before we come to the details of the proposition, there are a few points which I must address with you.’
‘Firstly, Mr Shima and I have sought you out in connection with Dream Princess Iyesha for a very important reason. While I myself am a director of the Dream Princess project, Mr Shima is concerned with the intricacies of design and realisation, responsible for the way in which our finished products look and feel. In the course of his work, Mr Shima will be responsible for everything from the colour of a Dream Princess’s eyes to the size of her waist; all these things are part of his work.’ He paused and took a deep breath that was in keeping with the look of resignation that had crossed his face after another glance at Shima. ‘When we are to choose the face and figure of a new Dream Princess, we are committed to giving her the most realistic qualities that are possible with the technology at our disposal. Rather than create what would be an artificial face, we will search for an example of a living and breathing woman who we feel captures the essence of what the Dream Princess should be.’
‘You make the dolls to look like real people?’ Eliza asked.
‘No, please do not think that this is the case. We will settle upon a woman whom we believe is perfect, and then we will make subtle alterations in the characteristics of the new Dream Princess so that she is somewhat like a sister in her appearance to the person upon whom she is based. The resulting Dream Princess is alike to the woman in question, but no case could be made that they are the same; in that respect we are usually very careful.’
‘Yes,’ Nakamura looked pained as he made the admission, as though his whole worth were being called into question. ‘But in the case of Dream Princess Iyesha…we were not as careful as we should have been. You must understand that the woman chosen as the essence of a Dream Princess can come from almost any background. Some are women prominent in the media and adored by many; but others can be women whom one might pass on the street, quite ordinary in their lives and characters. Then sometimes it can be that an employee of our company may choose a woman whom they admire greatly and believe deserves to be immortalised as a Dream Princess. And this last is the case with Dream Princess Iyesha.’
‘No,’ Nakamura cast a hostile glare at Shima, who gazed down at the photos on the table and then innocently up at Eliza. ‘In the case of Dream Princess Iyesha, it was Mr Shima who chose the woman upon whom she would be based. You see Mr Shima is much enamoured of the films in which you star, Miss Aukerman, to the extent that he makes the claim he has seen every one of them. In the case of Dream Princess Iyesha, he chose to base her appearance upon your own, and I am regretful to say that he did not take sufficient care to differentiate her facial and…other features from the model which he chose.’
So that was where the fan came from, she thought.
Eliza followed Nakamura’s gaze down to the photo’s spread out on the table. Instantly she realised they were not photos at all, but rather images created by a computer graphics programme. Most showed underwater scenes where all the twee and contrite things that could be imagined to exist under the waves could be seen; barnacle encrusted anchors, shipwrecks, coral reefs and even treasure chests dotted the backgrounds. But at the centre of each image was the same thing, Dream Princess Iyesha, swimming in her native element.
In the aftermath of Nakamura’s confession Eliza was suddenly fascinated. A woman well into her twenties, she had long since decided that dolls were a thing of the past; but this was something different.
Eliza’s eyes traced the lines of the mermaid’s form in wonder. There indeed were the features of her own face, surrounded by the halo of her dark hair as it billowed in the water, there was the line of her neck and the curve of her shoulders. But then for all its familiar little details, the Dream Princess’s body took a radical departure from her own. To the casual eye it might have seemed that Iyesha wore a long dress that clung to her like a second skin, covering her breasts, waist, thighs and beyond in a graceful sweep of aquamarine. A closer look however, would have drawn the eye to the point where the aquamarine clung just as tightly to her claves and continued all the way down to where a pair of silver flukes flared from the end of her tail. Eliza recognised the shape of her own legs in the curve of the tail as Iyesha swam through the water, the heaving of her breasts as the mermaid sat upon a rock and sang, she even saw the lucrative image of her own ass mirrored in the Dream Princess’s rear as she reclined on a beach, back turned to the imaginary camera.
‘Wow,’ Eliza looked up from the images before her, ‘these are so pretty!’
A look of startled relief flushed Nakamura’s face which Eliza took to be pride; it was only much later that she discovered the relief was linked more to the amount which a more litigious individual might have demanded for the use of her image without permission than to Nakamura’s delight at her approval of Dream Princess Iyesha.
‘You will no doubt be pleased to know that Dream Princess Iyesha is the most popular of all the models launched this year, already sales have outstripped all other new dolls in the range.’
‘It’s neat,’ Eliza was the one beaming now, ‘you know I always wondered what it would be like to have a fish’s tail, swim in the sea and all that stuff!’
‘Then maybe my proposition will be to your liking,’ Nakamura ventured.
‘Let me guess,’ Eliza tried to trump him, ‘you want me to dress up as Dream Princess Iyesha for you, right?’ Before Nakamura could answer she steamed on in a state of near delirium at the prospect of a job that involved keeping her clothes on for once. ‘Of course I’ll do it.’
‘Miss Aukerman,’ Nakamura spoke in a level tone, trying to calm Eliza down. ‘You are perhaps thinking of similar possibilities to ourselves on this matter. But we are not simply asking you to dress up as Dream Princess Iyesha. In fact we would like to propose that for the purposes of publicity and promotion, you become Dream Princess Iyesha.’
It had taken a very long while for the full implications of Nakamura’s offer to sink in, but Eliza finally had a good grip of just what he was suggesting. For a long time she had simply sat and pondered the images of Dream Princess Iyesha, shuffling through them like a strange slideshow as the thoughts floated through her mind. The long and short of it all was that the man was offering to take her away from her life as it was, to change the rules completely. If she accepted and Nakamura was telling the truth, she would become a mermaid…become the physical double of Dream Princess Iyesha complete with tail and all.
Though Eliza had never heard of such a thing being done before, she knew full well that there were rumours of just what amazing feats cosmetic surgeons had become capable with the advent of genetic manipulation. Never one to follow the news too closely, Eliza had never the less heard and seen some strange things in during her time in the world of adult films. Body Modification was a growing sub-genre of the industry and the films that had begun to appear which made both the eyes and the mind boggle as they pushed the boundaries.
‘For this service, we will meet all medical and personal expenses,’ Nakamura explained, ‘whilst your personal fee for the services rendered will be, we suggest to open negotiations, ten million dollars American.’
Eliza dropped the images and simply stared at the pair sitting across from her. For all the misgivings that had entered her mind, that was a figure that cast a totally different light on the whole issue. While trading her legs in for a tail would certainly change her life, Eliza reasoned that ten million dollars would have a similar effect as well. A new dimension had suddenly been added to her decision and she realised that above and beyond the sacrifices she would have to make, the money that Nakamura was promising could lift her out of the sleaze of the industry for good.
‘What else do I have to do?’ Eliza asked. ‘I mean apart form growing fins and giving up on designer shoes?’
‘We are proposing that you, as Dream Princess Iyesha, become the living representative of the doll that is based upon you.’ Nakamura replied. ‘Your duties will be to star in television commercials, appear at promotional events and in-between these commitments to live in the style in which Dream Princess Iyesha lives. Also if these things are a success with the consumer, the idea has been raised to commission a television series or even motion picture based around yourself and the other Dream Princesses.’ At this last point Nakamura seemed particularly impressed, as did Shima. ‘Our plans, if you are well received, are to hire actresses to become each of the Dream Princesses.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ Eliza pondered the deal. ‘I let you turn me into a mermaid; and in return you pay me ten million, put me on TV and if people like me I get to star in movies?’
‘I think I’d have to be stupid to say no!’
Nakamura reached across the table and shook Eliza’s hand vigorously.
Shima was so overwhelmed with Eliza’s answer that he fell out of his seat and onto the restaurant floor.
Eliza travelled more in the space of the next few months than she had all the years of her life before accepting Nakamura’s offer. She was flown across the continental United States from Los Angeles to New York where the contracts were drawn up and witnessed by lawyers representing herself and OIE.
Next came a long haul across the Pacific Ocean to Japan and an overwhelming immersion in the bustling neon metropolis of Tokyo. Here Eliza was introduced to the men and women who worked under Nakamura and Shima, the same people responsible for the doll in whose image she would soon be reborn. Eliza spent her time bowing politely and wrestling with the Japanese language whilst Shima, her constant guide, in turn grappled with English. After a few weeks, they were both able to get through a conversation filled with misplaced words and much gesturing, but always managed to get the point across.
Eliza had been secretly dreading spending time in Shima’s company, afraid that he would turn out to be a drooling pervert just waiting for a chance to feel her ass in a crowded lift. But as she got to know him the character of a genuine and friendly young man had emerged. She might have been aware of the fact that Shima had seen her in a good few compromising positions, but neither of them dwelt upon the fact and Shima himself behaved like a consummate gentleman.
‘Today,’ Shima began one morning, ‘we will be having the first photo shoot.’
‘Today?’ Eliza was puzzled by the announcement. ‘Last time I looked in the mirror I wasn’t a mermaid.’
‘Not yet,’ Shima countered, ‘but today we will shoot you in a costume and use the pictures for publicity. Some will also be sent to the facility that will change you soon, they will also need samples of DNA in order to prepare.’
Eliza soon found herself in a dressing room, being fussed over by half a dozen make-up artists and hairdressers. They painted her face with heavy stage make-up familiar from the more up market films she had done in the past, concealed her own hair beneath a flowing blonde wig and arranged in it a tiara made to resemble white coral interlaced with irregular pearls.
Stripped down to her underwear, the same six Japanese women helped her into the costume. At first the costume resembled nothing more than an oversized aquamarine sock; but as the side was unfastened and her feet were slipped into the bottom, Eliza began to feel the soft fabric close around her legs. Though she had sweated through a few scenes whilst wrapped up in hobble skirts and other bondage paraphernalia, this was a very different experience. The costume had been made of a material that was quite thick, but yielding all the same and hugged her body closely. As it was sealed up the side, Eliza was forced to remove her bra so that the straps would not be visible after the tail ended just above her breasts. Freed from the bra, she found that the thickness of the material had been used to conceal a bodice that now supported her chest very well indeed. Eliza gazed down at the impressive sight of her cleavage, then down at the sweep of the tail and decided that she made a very fine mermaid after all.
As soon as the outfit had been completed with a pair of long and elegant gloves, which matched the tail exactly and ended perfectly level with the line of the bodice, Eliza was carried through to a suitably camp underwater set where cameras awaited.
Eliza had been told in minute detail what would be expected of her by Shima beforehand and she was careful to pose in ways that were in keeping with a Dream Princess rather than with an experienced actress from the adult industry. She posed and was careful not to pout, smiled and tried not to smoulder; but when she caught sight of Shima over the shoulders of the photographers it was clear that there was only so much she could do to dampen her appeal.
Amused and more than a little turned on, Eliza began to realise the potential that her transformation could have. Though she had never had any kind of trouble using her looks to wrap men around her finger, Shima’s reaction to the sight of her flowing form hinted that the mere glimpse of her would be enough to reduce most men to quivering wrecks, have them falling down at her fins.
All too soon, it seemed to Eliza, the time came to leave behind Tokyo and embark on the next stage of her journey towards becoming Dream Princess Iyesha. In the short time she had spent there, she had grown very fond of the Japanese and their polite company. Saying goodbye to Shima and boarding a lonely flight to the United Kingdom on a cold and dreary morning was almost more than Eliza could bear. After so long surrounded by friendly faces, she was forced to travel alone to the clinic where the operation would be carried out, the operation that would turn her into a mermaid.
It was at the insistence of the clinic itself that she was forced to travel alone. Known as the Retreat, the exclusive establishment demanded that only the patient make the journey and would accept no arguments on this point.
Just as she had never before seen Japan, this new island was as much a mystery to Eliza and filled her with trepidation as the plane descended through a sky heavy with grey clouds. Her spirits were roused however, when the cloud was left behind, and below was suddenly laid clear a grand vista of pure white. She had arrived in England in the winter and the ground was hidden beneath a deep layer of crisp snow that lent to all that it touched a fairytale quality. Soon Eliza was able to forget a little of the melancholy that had coloured her departure from Tokyo as she allowed herself to be enchanted by the picturesque countryside through which she was driven after the drab and depressing streets of London.
It was well into the night when the driver who had met Eliza at Heathrow finally reached their destination. The clouds that had filled the sky melted away after the sun had set and left behind a boundless black expanse, dotted with stars. Civilisation was only hinted at by the occasional glimpse of cottages clustering together across the snow and framed by the moonlight. Tired from the long hours of travel, Eliza was lulled to sleep by the smooth ride and the pleasant glow of the picturesque winter landscape.
A gentle hand on her wrist caused Eliza to stir and she looked up into the eyes of the driver as he held the door of the car open before her.
‘Here we are,’ he said briefly.
She nodded and began to gather her coat against the chill, which had entered the car as soon as the door was opened. Eliza stepped out onto gravel, cleared of snow and salted against ice. Before her spread the looming facade of a large house built of red brick, its many windows filled with welcoming light and warmth in the winter night. The driver had pulled up by a pair of huge double doors that stood in a commanding position as the only visible entrance to the house. Despite the cold, these stood ajar and spilled light out into the courtyard.
So, Eliza thought, this is it. I walk up the stairs and swim out the back door when they’re done with me.
With her luggage handled by the driver, Eliza made her way up the stairs and through the doors to be greeted by a graceful hallway with sweeping staircases and period furniture. At a desk inside the door, she set eyes upon a woman pondering over a stack of papers. The sound of Eliza’s shoes on the wooden floor caused her to glance up and regard the newcomer with a welcoming smile.
‘Welcome to the Retreat,’ Eliza was unable to place the woman’s accent, ‘My name is Gillian, and you must be Ms Aukerman.’ Gillian shuffled through her papers and quickly scanned the sheet that she finally settled upon. ‘I trust you had a pleasant journey, despite the English winter’s depredations?’
‘Yeah,’ Eliza replied, ‘the snow is lovely, like a Christmas card.’
‘I think that you will enjoy the view from your room. Your benefactors have been most generous in providing for your stay,’ Gillian subtly steered the conversation back to the matter at hand. ‘You will be staying in the grand suite on the top floor of the house, its windows command a sweeping view of the grounds beyond the gardens.’ She handed a key over the desk and nodded to Eliza’s luggage. ‘A porter will attend to that for you shortly. Your room is furnished to allow for all your needs and your meals will be brought to you there. If you need anything else all you have to do is call reception.’
‘Thanks,’ Eliza felt that she liked Gillian right from the start. She was her senior by a good few years, but somehow she sensed the woman was also grounded, rooted and steady in her manner. Eliza could not help but admire the firmness of her skin and the inner peace that Gillian seemed to radiate. The long coat that she wore concealed her body well, but Eliza was sure she had kept herself in good shape and hoped that when she reached the same age she would look half as good as Gillian did.
Gillian motioned to the stairs as the Porter arrived, picking up a steaming mug as she did so. The beverage had escaped Eliza’s attention and she was immediately attracted by the scent of herbs and spices that drifted from it.
‘Could I take a sip?’ she asked, feeling the cold more acutely all of a sudden.
‘No,’ Gillian sounded as if the request had caught her off guard. ‘No. I am sorry, this is a tea, which is not known here in the west…It is very strong and quite bitter; an acquired taste. I only drink it to remind me of home.’
‘Ok…whatever you say,’ Eliza was not about to pry into what was evidently a sensitive issue.
‘I will have a warm drink sent up to you,’ Gillian offered, ‘Coffee, tea or a hot toddy?’
‘Coffee would be nice,’ Eliza smiled as the elder woman made an effort to smooth over her hasty words.
Gillian nodded and smiled in return.
‘You will be under the care of Dr Pickford during your stay with us; he will call on you in the morning at your convenience.’
Eliza leaned back upon the chaise long and sipped the last of her coffee whilst the new arrival fussed and fiddled with the odds and ends he had brought with him. Once he seemed satisfied that they were in order, he sat down on the sofa opposite and accepted a cup of coffee Eliza insisted on pouring for him. He drank a little before placing the cup down on the coffee table between them and made an effort to begin.
‘I apologise if I seem a tad awkward,’ Pickford confirmed Eliza’s preconception of the English habit of apologising for nothing and things that were out of a mortal’s control, as if embarrassed that they had not yet quite managed to unravel all the mysteries of the universe. ‘You see normally I’d be doing this in my own office, all casual and chatty, but in your case we were given certain instructions to follow. One was that your visit should be as private as we could manage, which for a clinic such as ourselves is quite secretive, I can tell you. The folks paying for our services on your behalf insisted that you arrive under cover of darkness and leave that way…they also insisted that you have the best accommodation we had to offer, price being no object.’
‘Well, I like this place a lot; it’s very pretty.’
‘Yes,’ Pickford answered, as if the thought had never occurred to him before, ‘I suppose it is.’ He glanced down at the table and then at the bag by his feet before rummaging around inside. Finally he pulled something out and set it on top of the bulging file, which he had already deposited on the table. When he moved his hands away, Eliza saw that it was a doll, namely Dream Princess Iyesha.
Pickford studied her face as she stared at the doll and then at him. While Eliza held his eye, the doll keeled over and fell from its perch atop the file. Pickford looked embarrassed at this, as though he had unwittingly insulted her by way of ill-treating her little plastic doppelganger.
‘The good people at Oshimasu sent this to us,’ he explained, ‘along with a mountain of other materials, in order to help us with our research.’ Pickford’s tone hinted at a mild irritation when recalling being deluged with glossy merchandise and marketing from the sprawling corporation. ‘They felt that this would help us in staying true to the spirit of the whole thing, if you follow.’
‘They’re very dedicated to their vision,’ Eliza ventured.
‘Yes, of course,’ Pickford replied, hinting that there were other terms he could have suggested himself. ‘Anyway, the bottom line is that over the next few days we are going to be engaged in a process that will allow you to represent their product in a very real manner,’ he cast another quick glance over the doll, then over Eliza’s body wrapped in a towling dressing gown and came back to her eyes before he could have been accused of ogling her. ‘What we’ll be doing actually represents the coming together of two separate strands of work which we have been undertaking recently. On the one hand we have been working on other projects for your employer, and on the other I have to confess that you’ll not be the first mermaid for which I have been responsible.’
‘Really?’ Eliza was surprised to find herself a little disappointed by Pickford’s admission; she had been somewhat looking forward to being unique.
‘Yes, I performed rather radical surgery upon another young lady late last year. Things went well and she was most pleased with the results of the operation. Unfortunately I heard that she went missing recently, despite the fact she lived in London. Just how an anatomically correct mermaid sneaks out of a city that size without anyone noticing is beyond me.’
Eliza tried to imagine the mermaid and her strange disappearance, finding that she could not decide between her escaping to the open seas or being kidnapped by a travelling circus. She was reassured by the fact that she herself had the might of a multi-national to protect her from such things.
‘Anyway,’ Pickford changed the subject, ‘as I was saying, this ties in nicely with another line down which we have been proceeding for your employer. They may have hinted to you that you’re to be the first of a whole sorority?’
Eliza looked blank.
‘A sisterhood?’ Pickford ventured, ‘after you there will be many more women coming through those doors whom I’m to make into Dream Princesses.’
This time she nodded in agreement.
‘To that end the process that you will under go has to be a little different to the one I used when making my first mermaid.’
‘Well the idea is that you’re to be a living representation of a toy doll; the first mermaid that I created was intended for an entirely different purpose. She needed to be convincing as the real thing, needed to have people stare at her and think they were looking at a creature straight out of myth and legend. In your case, they need to look at you and see this Dream Princess Iyesha; the idea is for you to look just like the doll. So no scales and webbed fingers for you, I’m afraid.’
‘So you see the two strands that come together here? Firstly I have to make a mermaid out of you, and secondly I have to make sure that mermaid looks like a plastic doll as well. So what I intend to do is take the process in those two stages, plastic doll first and mermaid second. I think it will be easier that way round.’
‘If you say so.’
‘The first stage will take place later today and we’ll see how you get on with that before scheduling the second. How does that sound?’
‘It sounds crazy and a bit scary, but what the hell.’
Eliza lay naked on the operating table as the anaesthetic took hold of her and lulled her mind into a state of detached relaxation. She was aware of her surroundings, but could feel neither the cold of the table on her back or the touch of Pickford’s hand as he withdrew the needle and issued instructions to his assistants. Time seemed to loose all meaning as the minutes flowed together and were swept away without Eliza’s noticing.
The first sensation, which broke through, her semi-torpid delirium came when Eliza felt herself being lifted from the table an inch so that a harness of some kind could be slipped under her. Supporting her beneath her knees, arms and the small of her back, the thing was tightened until it raised her from the table completely.
At the same time she was aware of something being placed in her mouth, an object the size of a golf ball and attached to a long tube.
‘Respirator in place,’ a disembodied voice called out.
A moment later Eliza felt two more objects being pushed into her nostrils. Smaller and neatly fitting in place, they stoppered her nose up completely. It was then she realised that the object in her mouth was allowing her to breathe.
Gently cradled in the harness, Eliza found herself being moved slowly across the operating theatre away from the table. Looking around she became aware of a tank on the floor of the room, parallel to the operating table. Perhaps eight feet in length and four wide, the tank stood just taller than the waist of a fully-grown man and was three-quarters full of a clear liquid. Though it resembled water, something told Eliza that it was another thing entirely. Before she could look again, Eliza felt something being pressed over her eyes and blotting out her vision.
‘Gently,’ Eliza heard the same distant voice, ‘lower carefully, on my mark.
In her time, Eliza had always been a sucker for a long hot bath and love nothing more than to soak in a tub for hours on end. The one thing better had been a bath filled with fragrant oils or a prolonged session in a Jacuzzi. But this was a whole new experience. The mystery liquid into which she was lowered inch by inch was deceptively warm and maybe a little more viscous than water. Her hair gathered tightly to her head and every inch of the rest of her body shaved of hair, Eliza shivered as the warmth of the liquid seeped into her limbs and coursed through her very being. For what felt like an age, she floated in the tank, divorced from the outside world and not caring for its concerns in any shape or form.
‘Slowly, lift her out,’ Eliza barely heard the words as she was lifted from the tank. Separated from the soothing liquid, she felt no great disappointment as the warmth, which had suffused her body, still clung to it as the tank was left behind.
With as much care as had been taken to reach the tank, the unseen hands moved Eliza back towards the far side of the room and over the operating table where they paused while another piece of equipment was made ready. The fact that Eliza was unable to see this was probably a good thing, as the new element in the operation resembled a silver case the size of a coffin, mounted on wheeled legs. Pickford’s hands opened the hinged lid to reveal a black interior marked out in the rough impression of a human body so that the contraption’s occupant would be held quite still once the lid was closed again. Into this depression they placed Eliza’s inert form and trailed the tube of her breathing apparatus from a specially made hole in the machine’s side. Once she was laid in the depression to his satisfaction, Pickford closed the lid and sealed Eliza inside.
Eliza found that the sides of the machine pressed against her tightly and allowed no room for her to move. Had she been able to focus her mind, there might have been panic rising within her at the claustrophobic conditions, but the effects of the anaesthetic kept her calm and still as the inside of the machine began to slowly rise in temperature. Soon Eliza was feeling the intense heat and a strange pressure on her body from the effects of the machine in which she lay. From head to foot she felt the sensation of her body being pressed and moulded by the two sides of the machine, from above and below. Much like the feeling of floating in the pool, Eliza felt no pain and afterwards could not have said how long she remained inside.
Later that night, Eliza wandered into the bathroom of her suite and allowed the bathrobe to fall from her shoulders as she stepped into the shower. For the past few hours she had been doing as many things as she could that seemed to her normal and mundane, in the vain hope that in them she might find something to stop her head spinning and bring back reality.
The light from the fitting above caught the sheen of Eliza’s skin and betrayed the very first hint of a change in her appearance. Had one passed her fully clothed in the street, it might have escaped your attention that here was a woman who’s skin was perfectly even in tone and texture, a woman who’s skin resembled nothing more than smooth plastic from head to toe. But that was not the only change that had been wrought to her body.
Standing in the shower as the water began to fall on her head, Eliza watched as rivulets ran down her shoulders and into the grooves that encircled the tops of her arms where they met her torso; similar lines lay in-between her thighs and pelvis. At the point where her neck met her head and around her waist, Eliza’s body was also marked in the same way. Although she could still move her limbs as she had done before, the grooves were enough to give the impression that these were the only points of articulation on her body.
Eliza cursed as the soap shot out of her hand and she struggled to retrieve it in the steam and water. She was not normally this clumsy, but then she was not normally grasping for a bar of soap in this particular way. When she finally found the soap, she grabbed it with both hands and stood up to inspect her catch. In reality it was clear that she was staring at the fingers of her hands, rather than the soap clutched in them. The operation had forced the fingers together until her hands served more like mittens than human digits, no finger able to move independently of the fellows it was fused to.
She rubbed the soap into lather and spread it over her body, which was still soft and yielding despite the fact it resembled solid plastic. Eliza’s unified fingers explored a body, which was smooth and hairless as it had never been before. She recalled Pickford’s words as he had explained that the same process would be repeated until there was a living, breathing example of every Dream Princess in Oshimasu’s employ.
In her mind’s eye she pictured dozens of other living plastic dolls as they went about their daily lives, walking dogs in the park, working nine-to-five jobs in the city and presenting daytime chat-shows on TV. In her fantasy, no one seemed to notice the fact that the plastic women’s joints showed when they wore something off the shoulder. When they picked up a spoon and stirred their coffee with a hand devoid of the usual individual fingers, no one batted an eyelid. The images raced through Eliza’s head as she towelled herself dry after the shower.
She tried to dress herself, but found that the loss of her fingers made the task frustrating beyond belief. Little by little she persisted and pulled on each individual garment with painstaking care and attention. Eliza slipped on a pair of silk knickers as a concession to feminine glamour, but for the rest she kept to convenience and comfort. The bra as a dead loss, she thought, another problem I’ll have to handle somewhere down the line. But as she gave up struggling with the hooks and dropped the bra on the bed, Eliza recalled the anatomical details of Dream Princess Iyesha and realised that things were about to change in that respect as well. She pulled a pair of jeans on over her feet, over the toes that had been moulded together in the same way as her fingers and then sat down on the bed.
Eliza felt ridiculous as she sat there, regarding her chest and trying to make the most of it before it disappeared beneath the tail she was to receive the very next day. She had always been turned off by the idea of group therapy sessions where women got to know their bodies, pictured them attended mad old grandmothers, frustrated suburban moms and hippies with unshaven armpits. But now Eliza was determined to break the taboo and spend quality time in the company of her breasts. After all, they had been an integral part of the package that had seen her career flourish, she came to the conclusion that they deserved to be recognised as one of her most valuable assets. So there she sat, for what seemed like hours, just staring at them, admiring the curve and occasionally cupping them in her hands until she was certain that whatever the next day might bring she would be ready for it.
‘So this is the last push,’ Pickford said as he directed Eliza’s attention to a long tray that ran the length of the surface next to the operating table upon which she lay. ‘Today we finally define the shape of your body and add the features that will mark you out as the much mentioned Dream Princess.’
Eliza saw that the tray was filled with a clear gel, and atop the gel was a narrow strip of aquamarine that stood out starkly against the sterile white of the operating theatre.
‘Oh yes,’ Pickford nodded, ‘that is the tail that we’ll be grafting onto your body. It was made to your specifications exactly, engineered on a genetic level and modelled on the DNA samples that you supplied to us. Once it is attached the tail will feel and act just like your own skin.’ As he spoke, Eliza felt the needle delivering a sedative into her arm. ‘Of course we have to make sure the shape of your body is just right before we can go ahead and bond it to you…’ His voice seemed to trail away as the anaesthetic took hold.
Once more Eliza felt the harness being slipped beneath her body and begin to lift her inert from the operating table. But this time her arms were raised above her head and bound to a previously unseen part of the harness. In this way she was again carried across the theatre and lowered gently into the tank of liquid that had made her body as malleable as clay. The warmth spread through her body, but stopped below her arms as she was allowed to be lowered no deeper. Eliza felt the liquid take effect and seep into the portion of her body submerged, where it lapped over the lower half of her breasts she felt an intense rush of pleasure as they became soft and yielding.
Returned to the operating table, she was shocked by the feeling of something cold being inserted between her legs. But whatever it was remained a mystery as Pickford’s hands began to move over her body.
Eliza was surprised by how quickly the doctor worked at the shape of her lower body. After briefly pressing her breasts together at the bottom in a way that made her sure she would never need another supportive bra in her life, Pickford moved on to her belly button. Without pausing, he smoothed it over and evened the flesh out where it had been leaving no trace. Next he worked down Eliza’s legs, obliterating the gap between them and massaging the flesh together until there was no trace of the former limbs. Upon reaching the end of her legs he did away with heels, feet and toes in the space of minutes. Pickford then had Eliza turned onto her stomach and repeated the process up the backs of her disappearing legs, before removing whatever had been inserted around her intimate parts.
On her back again, Eliza watched as Pickford and his assistants carefully removed the tail from where it lay in the tray. Now that it was stretched out, she could see the way in which it would wrap around her body and form a second skin; she even caught sight of the silver tailfins, which fell away from the very end like the delicate wings of a dragonfly.
As Pickford delicately eased the edge of the tail into place down the side of her body, Eliza was taken back to the experience of being dressed in the costume at the Tokyo photo shoot and in her relaxed state of mind the two mingled into one. Pickford stretched the skin of the tail over her body and pressed it as tightly as he was able, making sure that the line it followed over her breasts and under her arms was perfect. He ordered her turned over again and proceeded to wrap the tail close about her with the same merciless attention to detail, tucking the new skin across her smooth stomach, over her united thighs and finally around the tip of her feet. There he took especial care as he aligned the angle of the fins to ensure that the nerve endings in each would marry up to those in Eliza’s feet.
Eliza watched all this merged with the attention of the Japanese women who had applied her makeup and powdered her face. When Pickford was satisfied and the harness lifted her from the table for the final time, Eliza was certain that she was being carried towards the underwater set where she would pose for the camera. Instead the harness held her in mid-air whilst the lower half of the operating table was collapsed and a machine much the same as the one she had been placed in the on previous day. The difference was that the new machine was perhaps only three quarters of the length, and when the lid was lifted it was plain to see that the impression inside was not that of a human being. Instead the impression was that of the lower three quarters of Dream Princess Iyesha.
Eliza was placed into the device, which left her free maybe an inch above her breasts and left her arms laid upon the operating table. Soon after the lid was sealed closed, she felt the intense heat and pressure as the device performed its function, pressing her body into the mould and completing the last stage of her transformation into the living image of a doll which had been modelled after her in the first place.
It is safe to say that the irony of Eliza’s situation totally escaped her.
Eliza waited silently for the cue to be whispered to her through the earpiece and all the time kept her eyes closed as the strange sense of excitement mixed with the tiniest hint of fear coursed through her. Moments later there were the clear and slightly stressed tones of Nakamura’s voice, she took her cue as the light of the world flooded into her cramped confines.
The flash of the cameras was almost blinding as the giant clamshell slowly opened atop the gaudily decorated podium. Crowded ranks of press photographers clamoured and fought for position as Eliza’s eyes adjusted to the sudden galaxy of blinking lights amid the sea of faces.
Nakamura spoke into her ear again and she launched straight into the script that been drilled into her over the space of the past week. In near perfect Japanese, she greeted the assembled press, thanked them for attending and formally introduced herself; not as Eliza Aukerman, but as Dream Princess Iyesha the mermaid who dwelt beneath the ocean waves, swam with the whales and the dolphins and had the voice of an angel with which she sang upon the top of a coral reef. She answered their questions with the replies that Nakamura blurted into the earpiece and charmed the whole crowd into a state of reverent awe before she was done with them.
Once the press conference was over she curled up into a foetal position again as the giant clamshell closed, hiding her from the eager eyes of the media.
Alone in her dressing room, surrounded by flowers, small tokens of admiration and discreet invitations to be interviewed on more than a dozen different talk shows, Eliza pulled the fake coral tiara out of her hair and yanked off the blonde wig at the same time. She disposed of the long silk gloves, pulled her tail up onto the couch with a glass of champagne in her hand, and admired the commanding view of her body.
She ran her free hand over the line of her tail. Beginning at her breast, she felt their weight and marvelled still at the fact that they drew the eye and that Pickford had only half covered them, as if his intention had been to give her a dangerous plunging line. Where the aquamarine met her skin the tail was raised slightly to foster the illusion that she might actually be wearing a dress, and what would in that case have been the bodice was lined to give ample support to Eliza’s chest whilst resembling that very same thing.
Her hand slipped further down until it reached her thighs and Eliza curled her tail to stare at the silver tailfin that obeyed her every whim. The operation had deprived her of her legs, but left her muscles very much the same so that her tail functioned very much like a pair of legs bound together, with the exception that her intimate parts were now neatly tucked away around the back behind her buttocks (between which it was hard to slide a piece of paper…most of the time; Eliza found they tended to relax when she was called upon by nature or excited in that certain way).
Reflecting back on what she had gained and lost, Eliza sipped the champagne and smiled at the realisation that she would never have to go back to the industry from whence she had come.
But the nudity issue was the thing that amused Eliza the most. She had spent so long with her flesh on display, feeling like a piece of meat in her previous line of work and been shunned by the moral and upstanding members of society. And now here she was being paid to do the same thing.
Eliza shivered as a breeze blew through the room. Pickford had been right when he said the tail would be a second skin; she felt the same sensations along the length of the tail as she did anywhere else on her body. Though it was designed to resemble a mermaid costume it was tactile and meant that Eliza felt everything that touched her from the couch on which she lay to the breeze that caressed her deceptively naked form.
She was sensitive and sensuous, even though she looked like nothing more than smooth plastic.