February 25, 2293

The air tingled briefly around Stella's head, causing her hair to spark slightly in the dry air. Through the huge viewing pane of her premium office, the Earth turned slowly and majestically, thousands of miles beneath the orbital station.

"Miss Stella?" came the cautious voice of her attendant.

"Yes, Becky?" Stella replied, trying to hold her voice steady and patient. Her last attendant had lasted only one month before Stella lost patience. He was serving drinks and patrons over on the Freedom station now, she heard. Being Stella's attendant had very impressive pay and perks, but it was not without some risk.

"Your daughter is on holo three. And Kimberly just arrived for her two o'clock with you."

"Thank you, Becky. Put Rose through, and tell Kimberly I'll only be a minute."

"Yes, ma'am."

 

Stella swiveled her chair around and saw her six year old standing there, a big grin on her face.

"Hi, Mommy!" she burbled. She held up a sheet of paper that was covered in blotches of purple, white and yellow. "Look what I drew in school today! Can you tell what it is?" she asked hopefully.

Stella leaned forward and scrutinized the picture. The holographic images of both her daughter and the drawing were crystal clear. Too clear, it turned out, for Stella still couldn't make out what it was and needed an alibi. Her foot slid slowly to a floor switch she'd had installed and pressed it. The hologram skipped and jumped, growing a trifle fuzzy.

"Sorry, Sweetie," Stella said in her sad voice, "but I'm not getting the best image. Why don't you tell me?"

"It's us, Mommy," Rose exclaimed, at once upset her mother couldn't see the perfect rendering, and elated to be able to tell her. She pointed to the yellow splotch. "See? This is you. And this is me. And we're out on the space station's walking area, looking at the stars."

Stella lifted her foot off the switch and the picture settled and cleared. She gave her daughter a big smile.

"You're right! That's positively beautiful, Rose!"

"Can I hang it up with the others?" Rose asked excitedly.

"Right this instant!" Stella insisted. Her quarters were luxurious and spacious, but she had no idea what color her walls were, they were so covered with Rose's artistic accomplishments. "Mommy has a meeting right now, honey, but we'll sit down tonight and you can show it to me for real, okay?"

"Okay!" She gave a huge smile, then blew a kiss. "I love you, Mommy. Bye!"

"Bye-bye." The holo snapped off and Stella turned back to her desk, still smiling. The joys of motherhood couldn't be explained to anyone who wasn't a mother.

She reached to the inlaid control console on her desktop and activated the directional subsonic impresser. She thought for a moment. Rose really did deserve a special treat for her latest picture. Stella decided and ran her finger up the intensity control, doubling the impresser's silent output. She then tapped the "Available" button, telling Becky that she was ready to see Kimberly. As an afterthought, she turned down her office lights to warm glow.

There came a tentative, hollow knock on the energy door, and Kimberly quietly poked her head through the opaque surface. The power abruptly shut off, leaving Kimberly looking slightly foolish in the suddenly empty doorway. She smiled shyly, then walked gracefully to Stella's desk.

In the low light, Kimberly was a floating dream wrapped into a magnificent form of body. Tall, she was still of slight build, yet avoided looking too athletic, thanks to her ample bust and extra push she put into her hips. Her hair was as thick and blond and long as it had been fifteen years earlier, when she'd first come onto orbital station Gamma, looking for a new life. Kimberly had foundered from job to job before finally being hired for Free Fall Females, one of a dozen prostitution companies licensed to work on the station. Now Kimberly was almost thirty, and she could no longer display the youthful exuberance and arousal the freighter crews demanded of their purchased companions. The worldly wisdoms Kimberly had picked up were showing in her eyes and smile, a clear mark that a change was needed. The time had come, and Stella was going to give her yet another chance at a new life.

"Kimberly!" she said sweetly, rising and crossing over to her. She gave the nervous woman a hug and pressed her gently into the chair. Stella walked around the large desk and took her seat as well.

"Is... Is there something wrong, Miss Stella?" Kimberly asked in her innocent, kitten voice. She eased back in her chair and slightly opened her legs, the long, soft dress she had on clinging to her shapely form.

She's trying her best to show her talents, Stella thought. She wants to impress me, hoping I'll change my mind. Stella's hand reached to the console and moved the impresser signal up another notch.

"Yes, there is, Kimberly. As you know, the station only allows Free Fall to license fifty employees at any time. Right now, I've got forty-seven. But I've just hired another five. That puts me two over. I'm sorry, Kimberly, but Free Fall Females must terminate your employment."

Kimberly stared at Stella, shocked into immobility. Her eyes quivered as tears welled up and her shoulders - still creamy white and lovely - began to shake. She swallowed several times, attempting to control her emotions.

"Miss Stella! Please! You... You can't! I've been with you for a lot of years!"

"You have been," Stella acknowledged. Agreement and sympathy always reduced the chance of the employee losing control until the proper moment.

"I've made the company a lot of money and never once cheated you!" Kimberly forced out of her closing throat. Tears were now flowing freely down her face, streaking it with the salty fluid of despair and ruin. "I've never turned down a John or a Jane! Not even the Martian riffraff!"

"That's all true, Kimberly. I ran the numbers. After expenses, you've earned Free Fall Females nearly two million in credits and a half million more in Martian realms. You've always been honest and obliging." Now was the time to tear her down with loving stabs. Stella gave her a friendly smile. "Remember that time twelve years ago? When that drunk crewman wanted to take you outside and try it in suits?"

Kimberly, her emotions quickly decaying into an uncontrollable quagmire, laughed and cried, giving a sob. "He even had a special connecting panel. I was never so happy to see a station cop as I was when we got caught at the air lock." Kimberly looked up at Stella with just a spark of hope in her eyes. "Please, Stella? Let me stay. I'll work out of my quarters and take only enough for food and rent. And... And clothes. You don't even have to continue my benefits. But this is the only life I know."

"You could try a new career, Kimberly. How about at General Space Outrigging, over on Platform 213? I hear they're looking for trainees."

"You mean, be a Geeso?" she said with a touch of panic. "Those guys would only do to me for free what I charge 'em for now." She looked up. "And what I always gave to Free Fall," she reminded Stella.

"I know, Kimberly. I really, really, know. You’re probably right. I don't suppose you could find a job you truly love outside of Free Fall."

"Then, couldn't you find someone else. I mean... instead of me?"

"Who, Kimberly?"

Kimberly looked down and said nothing. Her resistance hadn't been broken down entirely, then, Stella decided. She slipped the impresser to maximum. The deep, subsonic beam was projecting directly onto Kimberly's head, breaking down her thought processes and making her emotionally hypersensitive. Still the all but shattered woman remained silent, a very admirable trait in hired flesh but an annoyance now. Stella decided to try a different tack.

"I'll tell you what, Kimberly. Let me deal with the other girl now and I'll think about it. No, no," Stella held a hand out and motioned Kimberly to sit back down. "You can watch. It'll only take a minute."

"Becky?" Stella called out into the air. Becky always monitored terminations in case something went wrong. It was also a good training tool.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Is Delta Twenty-seven here yet?"

"Yes, ma'am. She just arrived."

"Good. Send her in, please."

The planed energy pinged off and another woman entered. In her early twenties, she was of medium height and general build. The specifics however, were perverted fantasy. A creature of man, she had a body engineered and grown in one of the many physiomanufacturing complexes on Earth. Her mind and soul could not be created by man, but it could be warped. Once its own person, the mind and soul had been wiped and rewritten, or riped as was the common term. Riping closed off the original persona forever, making room enough for a new one to be laid alongside. Done properly, a single mind and soul could be riped dozens of times over hundreds of years.

The swarthy woman with hip-long hair stood in front of Stella and Kimberly and shoved out her hips. Her dress, comprised of hundreds of long strings that clumped together and hid her assets for the most part - separated at her knees, showing the number engraved on her ankle: D1027J, marking her as a delta class pleasure ripe. She puckered her lips at Kimberly, then flashed her eyes at Stella.

"Yes, Miss Stella?" Delta Twenty-seven cooed. Unlike Kimberly, who had used her skills to show Stella she was still able to perform, Delta Twenty-seven was honestly trying to seduce either one or both of the women. To a woman of business and a woman of the business, Delta Twenty-seven's efforts were wasted. She was disappointed but not put off, and would continue trying. She always would.

"Delta," Stella said in a plain, emotionless voice, "I'm overstocked right now, so I've sold your contract to Programmed Pleasure Unlimited, on deck one. Please report there right away. The DL White is due in and PPU wants to give you a new body and persona and get you into somebody's arms tonight."

"You got it, Miss Stella. Stop by sometime and I'll give you a discount." She laughed. "If they tell me to." She smiled and winked, then turned and slunk out, either completely oblivious to or totally uncaring of the knowledge that her life - twisted and controlled though it may be - was over.

"Now, Kimberly," Stella said, turning her attention to the now openly crying woman. "What's wrong?"

"She's... She's... I... I..." Kimberly buried her face into her hands and wept. Carefully, Stella turned up the office lights. They went from a deep glow to a harsh white glare, mercilessly casting everything into the sharpest detail.

"Kimberly," Stella said softly.

The crying woman slowly recognized her name and raised her head. Through tear-filled eyes she saw her body as it truly was. The beauty was not an illusion but was faded reality. Her skin was still smooth but betrayed her efforts to keep it that way. Deep inside her was a love of what she was and a hatred of what she was becoming. With eyes dulled by the exhaustion of emotion, she stared at Stella.

"What can I do, Miss Stella?"

"Kimberly, the choice is yours, but I do have an answer." She held up a tabinal, its flat surface glowed slightly. "Programmed Pleasure Unlimited is hiring. I've got your contract right here. If you want, I can sell your contract, just like I did Delta's."

"But... But that means I'd have to be..." Her voice tapered off.

"Riped. Yes, that's right, Kimberly. You'd have to give up your body, mind and soul. But think of it!" Stella pressed on excitedly. "A chance to start over! A young body! I hear they're about the same age as you were when you started with us. Wouldn't it be wonderful, waking up each day, looking gorgeous without even trying? And you'd always be taken care of. Never a worry, forever and ever. Tell me... Didn't you envy Delta just now? Just for a moment?"

Kimberly nodded dumbly. Her hand slipped down to her bare, unmarked ankle and caressed it absent-mindedly.

"But I wouldn't be a person any more," she protested weakly.

"Kimberly," Stella sighed, laying down the tabinal. "I want to help you. Now, you tell me: Do I send this to PPU and let you have a carefree life doing what you've always loved? Or to General Space Outrigging, where every day your body loses just a little bit more, until you finally have to pay for what you're now selling?" She tapped the surface. "Or do I just erase the whole file and we say good-bye?"

"No!" Kimberly shouted, her hand going out to stop Stella. "Don't... Don't erase it, Miss Stella. Tell Programmed Pleasure Unlimited I'll work for them." She gave a timid smile. "It won't be all bad, will it, Miss Stella? Being a pleasure ripe, I mean?"

"Kimberly," Stella said with gentle reproof. She stood and walked around the desk and took the broken woman by the hand. "You were one of my best girls. And I always take care of my girls. I wouldn't even suggest this if I thought it wasn't for the best. Trust me, you'll feel much better about it by tomorrow. Would you like me to come by and see you?"

"Oh, would you, Miss Stella?" she asked hopefully. "It would mean a lot to me." Suddenly overcome again by emotion, Kimberly hugged her tightly. Stella stroked her long hair for a moment, then gently pried her loose.

"Why don't you get up to deck one right away, Kimberly? I can have your contract transferred and into their system before you step off the eledisc. Who knows? Maybe you and Delta can both start tonight?"

Kimberly stood up, filled with hope and happiness. She hugged Stella one more time.

"Thank you for this chance, Miss Stella! That you so much!" She smiled a little more boldly, then hurried out the door, eager to start anew a career she thought had been over. Stella looked after her a moment, then reached back to the desk and pressed the auto-connect to the Orbital Vista Dinner Theater. Waiting for the holo to go through, she flipped off the impresser. A handy device, and well worth the credits it cost her. Not that it could force anyone to make a decision against their will. It merely guided them to the choice they probably would have made anyway. Stella was nearly certain that was the case.

A small image flickered up on the desktop, showing a handsomely dressed woman standing behind a small table. She looked up from her desk and smiled graciously. Stella smiled back.

"Hello, Katerina. This is Miss Stella. Could you please hold a table for two for my daughter and me tonight?"

"Certainly, Miss Stella. Shall you want tier four again?"

Miss Stella smiled and shook her head. "No, no. I just picked up an unexpected bonus, so there's no need for the business class tables. I'll take the Stationmaster Tier, best seats for dinner and show. My little daughter just painted another masterpiece and I always want to treat my girl right."

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Career Choice

Copyright ©2006 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.