The Transformation Story Archive The Circe Treatment

Protection Racket

by Mark Thompson

Section Chief Striker Simpson was frustrated. Jimmy "Sniffer" Pesco, the star witness in this year's trial-of-the-century had just fallen into his lap, and now he had to keep him safe for 26 days.

That was how he was counting it now. In days. 26 days before this little greaseball could get out of here, out of the FBI's hair, out of Striker's sight forever. But after narrowly avoiding two assassination attempts in four days, Simpson had begun to think about reformation.

It would blow his section's internal budget for the next two months - even here in the FBI, government budgets were tight. But if he blew this case, he'd be busted down to a field agent, and there was no way he was heading back to the waterfront beat. Not to mention the fact that blowing this protection case meant letting the head of the Torvino family and three of his lieutenants off scot free.

But reformation was expensive. The Circe treatment was still relatively new. The AMA still adamantly opposed its use, and a couple of churches still refused to believe it even existed. The FBI had a genius of a Circe programmer on staff, to be sure, but the internal billing for his use was astronomical. Probably, the Chief thought sarcastically, so that the Bureau Chief could just have him up there making call-girls-to-order. Striker was thinking. A full-blown reformation would run him around a mil on the balance sheets - but maybe there was some way he could do it cheaper, he thought? Some sort of deal we could get from the guy? Maybe if the programmer needed some test subjects or something - they'd let him turn Pesco into a cockroach if it would be cheaper. Always a man of more action than thought, he had already dialed the Resource department on his cellular before he'd even decided it would be worth talking to the guy. He set up the meeting.

Monday at 9 am, Striker was at the door of "Electron Research Associates", with Agent Li Trang and her charge. Trang was pushing the wheelchair with her unconscious witness up the side ramp when Striker's badge slid into the reader near the front door. Luckily, Trang hadn't gotten all the way up the ramp, since a door that looked like a fire exit in the solid wall of the building popped open halfway down the ramp. No handles were in evidence, so Li grabbed it before its weight swung it shut again, and Striker pushed the sleeping body of "Sniffer" Pesco through the door into the elevator beyond.

One short ride later and they were in the sealed basement of the electronics firm, being led to the conference room. Trang chose a seat where she could watch both the video screen built into the wall and her snoozing sidekick. Striker slid into the seat nearest the screen as the door opened and a somewhat wild-eyed boy shot in. The kid looked frazzled but wide awake, with a jittery, almost insane glint in his eyes. His gray T-shirt emblazoned with a wash-faded "Stanford" was obscured by a wrinkled and stained white lab coat that looked more like an affectation than a necessity. His blue jeans were loose and faded, and his sneakers were nearly falling apart, the laces flopping aimlessly about his ankles.

As he came in he spun to the video wall and punched a few buttons in the small, almost unnoticeable keypad mounted next to it on the wall.

"Striker and Firefly, right?" he said as he whipped his head around to look at them. Trang looked at Striker briefly but the boy just nodded and turned back to the video wall. "I'm Doc. You've seen the standard reformation stuff, but you've turned it down - that's why you're here." Striker thought to himself that wasn't the only reason, or even the main one, but didn't say anything - information isn't free.

The boy grabbed the back of a chair and twirled it toward himself, leaning on the rolling chair as though he were an octogenarian and it was his walker. He nervously rolled it out and back, out and back. The video screen behind him flickered and rolling static lines appeared on it.

"I'm doing research on some... unusual reformation possibilities. Take a look."

The video cleared and a shot of a woman appeared, reclining on what looked like a dentist's chair. Striker squinted at the picture. He could swear there was even a spottable mounted on the far side...

As the camera moved back a bit, he could see it more clearly... it was a spottable. And the strange reflector light shining down on the woman's face was straight out of a dentist's office as well.

Jesus, he thought, budgets are tight everywhere in this damn company. The video panned down the woman's arm, past her noticeably shapely torso, to focus on her hand. At the top of the shot, an IV tube was sticking out of her wrist. At the bottom, just above the time codes, were her fingers, which she slowly wriggled.

"We're primed and ready" came a distant voice that Striker could recognize as the whiz kid here in the room with them.

"Execute," came the cameraman's voice again, and the woman in the video breathed in sharply, her hands stiffening. Then she began to slowly stretch her fingers and splay them, widening and stretching her hand as she began to groan a bit.

"Does it hurt?" came Doc's voice, sounding surprisingly concerned, Striker thought.

"No - it just feels kinda weird," came the woman's voice, "you know, like when you've cut off circulation for a bit and your hand's gone to sleep?

Sort of pins and needles."

"That's expected," said Doc, "as the shape of your hand changes, the blood flow changes, and your nerve endings change as well."

Now you could see something on the video. The woman had stopped moving her hand so much, just a slight wavering back and forth. But now you could see her fingers getting longer. not much, but they were noticeably longer than the somewhat stubby digits she had started with. As the film progressed, her fingers stretched out perhaps an extra inch. But there was something else, too - they seemed thicker and even slightly bumpy at the tips. Then, the cameraman moved his shot to get a better view of the top of her hand, and Striker could see that her fingernails had changed as well. Besides getting bigger, they were darker - almost black. Striker frowned briefly as he wondered if she had been wearing black polish - he couldn't remember, but he didn't think so.

"Process complete," came Doc's voice.

"Great," said the cameraman, and the picture jostled as he began to put down the camera. A quick edit later and they were seeing a closeup of the woman's hand again. This time they were somewhere else, since she was holding up her hand in front of her body, and in the background was just a wall with some nondescript documents in frames on it. The picture zoomed in on her hand again, which provided Striker with a great view of her chest. Never having seen her face, Striker would be hard-pressed to point her out in a crowd, but she was quite beautiful from the neck to the waist.

"Okay, Eagle, show us what you've got," said the cameraman. This time the camera zoomed even closer on her hand until it nearly filled the screen.

"You got it," came the woman's staunch reply and the video caught the change as her fingertips seemed to pulse, then burst. Her fingernails, still that unusual shade of black, pushed out further and further from her fingers until they extended somewhere about 2 inches out.

Doc's voice came again, this time not nearly so distant. It sounded like he was standing next to the cameraman. "Excellent," he said, "now retract 'em." She did so, and again with a pulse her claws retreated into her fingertips. During the course of the next few minutes of video she extended them again and worked her way through various types of materials. Since there was no further narration on the film, Doc began to annotate what they were seeing, excited and filling them in on the details.

He'd given her extendible claws of an iron/aluminum/carbon alloy that is as near to unbreakable as he could devise, while strengthening her hand's bone structure as well to support the ripping and tearing she'd be doing. The video at this point showed "Eagle" literally clawing her way through the trunk of a car.

"I don't get it," interrupted Trang, "so you gave her claws. So what? What's so special about that? I could get claws at a New-You Shop in a snap!"

The video ended as Doc leaned forward on his chair to stare pityingly at the agent. She stared right back at him for a few seconds until he closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.

"You don't understand," he pleaded, "these aren't claws like you'd find on a cat or on a puma - these are inorganic, artificial claws. And I added them to her body."

Trang just stared at him, waiting for him to continue. "I borrowed some of the retractor mechanism from the feline form, sure, but the claws and the alloy and the bone structure were all mine - I built this! This does not exist in nature!" Doc's voice was rising, higher and louder as he began to pound the chair in front of him for emphasis.

"Nobody could do this except me! This! Is! Mine!" "Got it," nodded Trang, unimpressed by the kid's histrionics. "You're saying we could reform Sniffer here in some way that has never been done before - so nobody could find him even if they used morphing trackers."

Doc breathed in and out heavily a few times as he let his anxiety cool. He nodded.

"Basically, yeah."

"Well, claws ain't gonna do it for Mr. Squealer-Boy here. So I'm guessing you've got something else in mind?"

Here Doc's slightly twisted grin returned to his face. "Eagle was just a warmup - a chance to get you used to the ideas behind what I do. This is radical, completely different stuff. Not just artificial additions to bodies - but artificial bodies! Nobody's ever even thought of doing what I'm doing."

"Which is?" prompted Firefly, leaning back casually and crossing her arms.

"You got him, sir?"

Agent Sanders was excited, his dark blue suit flapping open and his eyes wide as he came up to the Section Chief in the back of the Anson Furniture Warehouse. The dreary interior and bland exterior of the building acted as perfect camouflage for the agency's operations, and Sanders ended up standing next to a large crate labeled "DINETTE SET". Simpson looked up at him from his desk, strategically placed near the back of the warehouse with a view of every exit, and replied laconically.


"That's great - is he secure? You know the Family's going to pull out all the stops on this one; they'll be cashing in every chit they have to get Pesco and get every gram of information out of his excuse for a brain." "He's secure." Simpson tapped his nearly-dead cigarette into the ashtray, finally tapping it into a stub and dropping it in. "We reformed him."

"Great!" said Sanders, his eyes momentarily darting to Simpson's. Was it the Chief's imagination, or was there just a hint too much enthusiasm in that exclamation?

"So who is he?" Just a bit too sly?

"Need to know basis, Sanders. You don't need to know." "Right - but since I'm in charge of the rest of the witnesses in the Torvino case, I just have to be sure that we really, really have him. Because if we don't, the whole case falls apart."

"Oh, we have him," purred Simpson, tapping his finger on his thick mahogany desk. "We have him hidden where Don Torvino will never find him." And his eyes glanced briefly at his desk, which seemed to wobble for just a moment. Sanders snapped a quick Boy Scout salute and smiled sardonically. "Yes, sir. Need to know."

"Right," was the grim reply as Simpson got up and deliberately turned his back and walked to the sideboard to get a cigarette. In the reflection on the cigarette case, he saw Sanders pause momentarily, then turn and walk out. Simpson smiled slightly and returned to his desk, then reached into the center drawer and removed the large, vibrating device that filled most of it.

He felt the surface of the device for a few moments until he found the right spot, then pressed firmly until he heard it click and felt the slight vibration cease. Walking to the file cabinet he pulled the second drawer and refiled the device in the box in the back.

When he arrived at the warehouse the next morning to find his desk gone, he wasn't surprised; he had been morbidly certain that Sanders was the mole, though he had been ready to test everyone else in his team if necessary. He popped his cellular and rang up Jeffers, gave him his assignment and the basics, and checked the cellular logs. Not surprisingly, Sanders hadn't used his phone since midnight. Simpson was sure Sanders' apartment was empty and the passports and other ID were already ashes somewhere, but though it was routine, it was still necessary to affirm that the FBI kept its promises - Sanders would be found, and caught, and reformed.

But meanwhile, Pesco was safe, right where they'd left him. He'd be in shape to testify next month - his own shape, that is. But for now, Simpson mused as he settled into the furry brown sofa against the wall, it was probably best to leave Pesco where he was. Safe and sound, no worries about being found or telltale clues being left around. Standard Circe treatments are fully reversible as a matter of course, and the posthypnotic suggestion to "stay in shape" that they'd administered was incredibly simple to cancel.

He briefly considered the difference between animal shapes, which when you get right down to it aren't all that different from human, and Pesco's new form - it wouldn't make any difference, would it?

Nah, he shook his head and reached for his phone, it probably wouldn't. Besides, not much to do about it now - and no reason to bring him out of it. Not when he's doing so well. Simpson patted his hand on the cushioned arm of the sofa and began to dial.

The sofa wriggled beneath him.

Protection Racket copyright 1996 by Mark Thompson.

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