"Mr. Gardener? I am the representative from Nuhaizi Global. A pleasure to meet you."
I looked up from my desk at the young, Chinese woman who stood in the doorway of my office. She had long, perfectly-black hair which fell in a seamless curtain on her neck. Her suit was lean and black as well, with only the even collar edges of a light-red top showing at her neck. Her expression was neither inviting nor abrasive. It looked clinical. Her eyes avoided mine and her voice was without accent.
I stood from my chair and reached out my hand to her. She took it calmly with a sedate shake and a slight bow. I gestured to the chair in front of my desk. Before sitting, she reached into a pocket, retrieved an immaculate business card, and handed it to me.
The card gave her name as "Miss Lin Xiumei" on one side and in Chinese on the opposite. The Nuhaizi logo and name was right after that, followed by "International Representative in Matters of Legal Concern" and "Fluent in English, Chinese, and Japanese."
I complimented her on the card and had the wherewithal from my previous dealings with Chinese businesspersons not to put it away but keep it on my desk as we both sat down.
With all that settled, I cleared my throat and told her, "I was surprised to hear your company is interesting in hiring me. I figured a company as large and powerful as Nuhaizi would always have countless lawyers in their employ. Why do you seek to retain my services?"
Miss Lin's gaze never met mine as she spoke. I knew enough not to take offense or make anything of it. She highlighted my many successes in defending corporations. She cited my varied, potent courtroom demeanor. And she brought up my experience in arguing laws involving nanite technologies.
I leaned back a little after all that. "I'll need to know a little about the case involved."
"It is related to the recent incident involving a Nuhaizi water treatment plant and nanites which may have made their way into rain clouds."
I'd heard of the case. It was all over the news. Regulators even shut the plant down for a while. I'd heard talk of a suit for improper use of nanite technologies and what happened to people caught up in a series of rainstorms.
I leaned forward with my hands on my desk and mentioned, "It seems to me that Nuhaizi Global has been caught in a lot of government issues and lawsuits. Thousands of citations. Your products have been frequently known to cause
She nodded as I spoke and answered, "Many major corporations invariably face legal concerns. It is a fact of doing business. In the majority of cases, the law has ruled in our favor."
I nodded back. "I noticed that. I've done some reading on Nuhaizi. Fascinating corporate entity. It starts out as a group of young, all-female resource farmers for online games. Eventually, they begin publishing their own fan-made and then original games. Then a massive variety of software. From there, developments in nanotech to make traditional consumer products easier and better and the whole thing just balloons from there. And yet, those girls remain constant as the board of directors. Hiring is primarily female
The woman hesitantly interjected into a pause in my speech to say, "My apologies, Mr. Gardener. But I am unsure what all this has to do with the topic at hand."
I raised a finger slightly with a smile. "Forgive my digression. It'll all be made clear soon enough. I'm all for more women involved in business. I'm intrigued. I do some digging. I find some old, personal websites stored online with the art and interests of those former young girls. I can't help but see a connection between the subject matter there and these strange, gender-change-related
incidents which keep cropping up for your company."
Miss Lin folded her hands in her lap and answered simply, "We have seen this theory proposed in the past."
I raised my eyebrows. "And?"
She looked towards my desk and said, "I am not able to speak further in such matters at this time."
I resisted a grunt. "Well, if your company is on a personal mission to secretly cause all sorts of incidents, then any defense in court will be that much harder."
She almost looked me in the eye this time. Her gaze hovered on my back wall. "We are a company dedicated to our shareholders and to our customers." I sighed and pressed a finger to my cheek.
She added, "Your compensation, regardless of the outcome, would be substantial. And would include many perks."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "How do you mean?"
"We have done much research on you as well, Mr. Gardener, and the reasons why you have such an interest in nanite technologies." She didn't have a grin but I felt a bit of hidden smugness in her presence. For me, I tried to keep myself from getting flustered.
I assured her, "Considering all your products and their various side-effects, I could just walk into certain stores and walk out with the same result."
Miss Lin gave a little nod. "You could. But you have not. That tells us much about you. And what we know about you is very appealing to us."
It all sounded so ridiculous but I sighed and put up my hands a little. "I'll admit it. I'm intrigued. But there would be various concerns involved
if you're implying what I think you're implying with regards to 'perks'."
She lowered her head a little. "You know us well, Mr. Gardener. I'm sure whatever you're thinking is highly astute and accurate to the situation. So far as concerns, we have much experience when it comes to such things. All paperwork would be taken care of in all matters."
Some part of me felt a rush of trembling and excitement thinking about how easily a company like Nuhaizi could turn the 'sex' letter on a document from one to the other. I quelled it with a firm cough and noted, "I'd need to see any contract for my services."
Miss Lin returned in a moment with a leather-bound folder from which she passed me a document of less pages than I expected. The terms were indeed fair and the compensation would settle matters for me for quite some time. I noticed all the places where a signature was required and read carefully at some of the denser pages. Miss Lin didn't interrupt.
When I was done looking it over, I told her the terms were agreeable. She produced a pen for me without delay. I should've asked for some days to further review the document but it just would've been putting off the inevitable. I signed clearly and swiftly.
Once all that was settled, I made a copy for myself and returned the original to Miss Lin.
We parted with all the same courtesies. But, before leaving my office, she added, "I will make sure to send along one of the 'perks' soon. I'm sure you will find it most agreeable."
That comment, and the possibilities it entailed, kept me from the rest of my work for the day. I paced in circles around the area of my office to the point my receptionist looked dizzy.
Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long. I turned around in the doorway to my office to find a young man in jeans with a messenger bag on his shoulder and what looked like a red-wrapped bit of dry-cleaning with a hook on the end. He said only, "For Mr. Gardener."
I accepted it and cradled it carefully. Once in my office, I closed the door and lay the item across my table. Unzipping the red cover revealed a two-piece suit not terribly different from the one worn by Miss Lin.
After a long breath, I sat behind my desk and stared at the suit, which had a nice, feminine cut to it.
Going to get a drink of water, I murmured to myself that this was crazy. I wasn't the sort of person to indulge in this kind of thing. Nanite form changes were for those young people, those buying on a dare, those who deeply needed a change, or those caught up in 'accidental' Nuhaizi incidents. But, apparently, they were for Nuhaizi employees too.
Once I'd taken my time with my drink, it occurred to me to pop in the restroom for a moment. I rinsed and slowly wiped my face. I looked into the mirror. I didn't hate the face which looked back at me. Not entirely. I enjoyed the weave of gray at the crest of my head. I liked my sapphire eyes and, with my regular exercise routine, my body wasn't too shabby either at my age.
And, yet, I felt this pull. Smacking my hands down on the basin, I figured I'd put this off long enough. After leaving instructions not to be disturbed until I returned, I walked back to my office and locked the door.
I made sure all the blinds were secured and slipped my gray suit off. I undressed to my underwear and shirt with the rest of my clothes in a bundle on the chair. Swallowing once, I deduced the bottom half would be wise to wear first, despite the fact I surmised nothing would happen until it was all in place.
Getting the pants on was quite a struggle. They stretched some but were clearly intended for a different frame. Half-breathing, I finally had them up and secured. The jacket cut into my shoulders but I had enough room to button it up. Then, I waited for what it was going to do to me.
And so I stood there. And I waited.
The waiting gave way to a sense of foolishness. I felt shamed and embarrassed. The clothes had done nothing. I thought back and considered if I had misunderstood Miss Lin's meaning or if they had simply gotten my size wrong.
The only other item in the bag was a note with my name, the words "Power Suit", and the given measurements. I felt around for some spot or button I had to press but there was nothing. I even tried it nude, with only the jacket, and all other variations I could think of. My best notion was that I'd happened upon an accidental dud. I clenched my fist on the table and sighed.
I wanted it to work like I imagined. In a passing thought, I even indulged the feeling which always lingered, despite acceptance of my form. I wanted to be a woman, at least for a moment.
At that thought, something like a static charge rippled through my entire body. It began but suddenly stopped. I wondered a moment if it was just a coincidence, but it was too big of one to be simply ignored.
Putting aside any begrudging feeling, I let that thought float back to the surface. Instantly, the charge returned. I held that thought in my mind. I refined it with focus and detail. I let it grow and so it did. Energy pulsed across my body as it began to change inside the suit.
I didn't have time to focus on the changes because of trying to hold onto the result. When my body finally settled, I let myself take in all that happened. I was shorter by a bit and narrower all over. My clothes had underneath had changed, as I had expected. My white blouse fit nicely across my modest new chest.
A look in my closet mirror told me even more. I looked like the daughter I'd never had. She was young with attributes of the best women I'd always passed on. Her jaw was mine in the same form but softened at points by a delicate hand. My hands were several sizes smaller but still retained some scars from back into my youth. I figured I could remove them, if I liked. But they were a nice memento.
My hair flourished on my neck, black in a way mine hadn't been in years. Out of curiosity, I imagined her younger. Soon, she had the face of a teenager and the suit hung on her like a costume. I chuckled and she answered back in mime.
So long as I was certain, any form seemed open to me. It was then that something occurred to me like a sudden joke. A newspaper column, long ago, in half-praising my courtroom demeanor, had called me a "natural chameleon, for whom no form or attitude is impossible in relentlessly presenting his case to any audience." I had to wonder.
And, as I stood there, I realized that the form most natural to me was not a young girl barely into puberty. I focused on my form with calm certainty.
When it was done, I finally breathed. The suit fit just right. I was close to my age. A long crest of silvery hair passed over my head. The faintest lines around my eyes gave the sapphire depth and strength. My lips matched stern with gentle. My body was close to my natural age. It felt right. This was the face I wanted to show the world.
As I looked back into my new but still familiar face, I felt a rush of the old energy, like I could argue a marathon session in a court. No matter how old I looked, I felt as energetic as that teenage girl. And I was quite ready to get to work.