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Substitution Games

by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

#FemaleVariantTransformation

Andrea Foster checked over her PowerPoint one more time, and confirmed that her laptop's battery was fully charged. She was ready to make the presentation to Mr. Huo of the Sunwukong Corporation, the most important presentation of her career. She was ready to save JCN CyberScience.

She shut the laptop down, slipped it into its carrying bag, slung it jauntily over her shoulder, exited her office and walked directly into pandemonium.

Dick Ramnarain, the CEO of JCN, was smacking his forehead with the heel of his hand while his PA, Albert DeMatteis, tried to calm him down. Ben Grayson and Gim Kelly, Andrea's leading software designers, were yelling at one another while a petite Asian woman in a slinky black dress stood to one side, watching it all with detached amusement. The woman was a stranger, strikingly beautiful. Her anomalous presence was almost enough to distract Andrea from Dick's tantrum.

Andrea walked up to Dick and laid a hand on his arm, hoping to get him to stop smacking himself. He ignored her. She was used to seeing him lose his temper when things were going badly, but this was the worst she'd yet seen.

"Dick, Dick, come on, what's the problem?"

Albert shook his head.

"The problem is that Mister Huo specifically asked for a tall redhead for his escort this evening, and the agency sent Ms. Lee here," he said, gesturing towards the Asian woman, who rolled her eyes in disgust.

Andrea felt a chill descend on her.

"So we've got no date for Mr. Huo, and less than an hour to find one, is that it?"

Dick stopped smacking his forehead and stared at Andrea. His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.

"This contract will move us from seven figures annually to eight. On the other hand, if we don't get it, we're liable to go under within a year."

Andrea nodded emphatically. No-one had to tell her how important the contract was for the company, or what it would mean to her personally. She'd accepted stock options in lieu of half her salary for nearly a year.

"We're leveraged up to our nuts," Albert butted in. He was always speaking in Americanisms, sometimes of his own invention. Andrea put up a hand to silence him.

"Yes, I know perfectly well that we're highly geared. So, Dick, you've got an idea how to salvage this?"

Dick leaned in closer, still holding her wrist.

'We need a tall redhead to sit next to Mr. Huo at dinner."

"Yes, I understand."

He swallowed hard.

"A tall redhead. Like you."

Andrea jerked back, freeing her wrist, nearly colliding with Patty Lanning, her PA, just now bustling into the melee.

"But I can't be his goddamn date! What, and give my presentation while holding his hand?"

Dick grinned at her, and then at Patty.

"Yeah, but see, I've got it all figured out. Huo's never met you, or even talked with you on the phone. He doesn't know what you look like or anything. So you can be just the girl from the escort service, see, and–"

He pointed at Patty.

"-and you can be Ms. Andrea Foster!"

He grabbed Patty's wrist this time, silencing the young blonde's inarticulate objections.

"You know what's in Andi's presentation, right? You can stand in for her, give the presentation to Mr. Huo, right?"

"Um, yeah . . . sure," Patty said dubiously.

"Great. And you–"

He pointed at the little Asian woman.

"You can give Andi some quick pointers on how to handle herself with Mr. Huo."

Andrea expected the woman to think the plan was idiotic, and not being a JCN employee, to tell him so to his face. Instead, she flashed a dazzling smile and said, "I'd be delighted, Sir. Let's start right away."

The woman gestured towards Andrea's office. She smiled at Patty, looking over her twin set and skirt.

"You should come, too. You can't be Ms. Foster in an outfit from Portman's."

Telling herself that she hadn't actually agreed to anything, Andrea followed the woman.

"I'm Joy Lee, by the way," the woman said when the door closed.

"Andrea Foster," she said uncertainly. "Patty Lanning. Now, how am I supposed to . . . ?"

"I think you can wear this," Joy said, brushing her hand down the front of her dress.

"What? You've got to be kidding. I'm not shaped anything like you - I thought that was the whole problem."

"It won't fit the same way, but let me show you - I think it can be done. Here, take off your suit."

Andrea obeyed dubiously, stripping down to bra, panties and pantyhose. Joy shrugged the dress off , standing casually in only a black thong while she waited for Andrea.

'The bra, too, hon - you'll never be able to wear it with this dress."

Andrea obeyed, blushing furiously.

Joy handed Andrea's suit to Patty.

"See how this fits. You'll look more like Ms. Foster, and you'll feel more like her, too, just try it."

Andrea allowed Joy to wrestle the dress over her head, feeling as though she were being stuffed into a sausage casing. Even leaving it unzipped in back, it was a tight fit.

Next, Joy surprised her by snipping off the dress's spaghetti straps with Andrea's own desk scissors. Joy slipped on her coat and vanished, leaving Andrea holding up the cups of the dress with her hands, and returned with a pair of men's dress shoes.

"Everyone's making sacrifices for the company tonight," Joy observed, pulling the laces from the shoes.

"Some more than others," Andrea grumbled. She looked over at Patty, and saw the young secretary preening herself in Andrea's expensive suit. It fit her very well, aside from the pants being too long.

Joy safety-pinned the shoelaces inside the dress, creating longer straps than it was made to have. When she was done with her hasty redesign, the triangular cups of the dress just barely covered Andrea's nipples. The hem of the dress, though, was still bunched up around her hips.

"You'll have to take off the undies, I'm afraid."

"My God, I can't, not in a dress this short!"

"It's not going to drape right otherwise. Maybe if you wore a thong, but not with hip huggers and pantyhose."

Gritting her teeth, Andrea pulled off her panties and hose, struggling to keep from exposing herself in front of her PA. Joy stood by, smiling patiently. Standing there comfortably in just a thong, the lovely Asian woman shamed Andrea out of her modesty. When she was done, Joy tugged the hem down and smoothed the dress a bit. Andrea shuddered at the touch of her hands.

Andrea looked in the mirror and was disturbed. The dress that had been form-fitting and perhaps just a trifle short on the petite Asian looked on Andrea like it was painted on, and barely covered her crotch. The fabric was so tight across her hips that it gave her a distinct camel toe. Patty, dressed in Andrea's suit, the pant legs pinned up, placed a pair of black high heels and a tiny purse on Andrea's desk.

"Found these in your closet. They ought to do, I guess.'

She gave her boss an encouraging thumbs-up and left the office with Andrea's laptop over her shoulder.

Joy looked Andrea over.

"Yeah, I guess it'll do. Come on, let me do your makeup."

She used Andrea's own makeup kit, but Andrea could tell that a lot more was going onto her face than usual. The foundation and highlighting on her collarbones and breasts were quite a surprise, but understandable, considering how much flesh she was showing.

"Don't bite your lip, you'll get lipstick on your teeth. What's the matter?"

"Joy, do you - do I really look good enough to be believable as an escort?"

"The dress is a long way from perfect, but it's clingy and shows a lot, and that helps. The makeup is going pretty good. Tilt your head back a little more."

"I mean . . . I mean me. My face is all wrong, and my boobs are too small and they hang too low, and I'm too old, aren't I?"

"How old are you?"

"Thirty-six."

"I'm thirty-one."

"Really? Gee. But look, I look maybe ten years older than you, so -"

"No you don't. And once I get done with your cheekbones, your face will be just fine, and your boobs are in great shape for being all-natural."

Andrea smiled at that.

"You can tell?"

"Of course. Part of the job, like knowing how to do makeup, or fit a dress on the fly. You could maybe get some small implants, take you up to a C, take up a little slack and round 'em out some, but as I said, for natural, they're great."

Andrea blushed. Joy seemed to be thinking of her as "the new girl", rather than as an amateur filling in just the one time. The thought of this woman treating her like a colleague, a peer, was both comforting and disturbing.

Joy finished Andrea's makeup and let her look in the mirror. It was heavy and bold, nothing like what Andrea would willingly wear even for the evening, but not as bad as Andrea had feared.

"You're good. Ever thought of working as a cosmetologist?"

"Maybe one day. Cosmetology, couture, fashion photography, I've thought about it. Definitely never going back to law school. But right now I love being an escort. Which brings us to the next part of our program: getting you psyched up for your debut as an escort."

Andrea swallowed hard. Joy laughed at her fearful expression.

"It's not really all that different from a regular date, except there's more on the line than whether he's going to ask you out for Saturday. You need to make everything seem perfect, especially him. Everything he says is fascinating, every joke he tells is hilarious, whatever he wants to talk about is the most important thing on Earth."

In spite of herself, Andrea chuckled.

"You're right, it's not all that different from a regular date."

Joy gave her a serious look.

"Except remember what I said about there being more at stake. I heard your boss talking about this Mr. Huo being important to your company. Well, he's pretty damn important to my agency, too. Sunwukong reps spend a bundle with us. So this can't be a bad date for him, not even a mediocre one. Your company is paying for this to be the best night of Mr. Huo's year. And you know what it takes for a guy to consider it a really good date, don't you?"

Joy looked at her expectantly. Andrea bit her lip.

"But . . . I'm not going to have to, er, have sex with him, of course . . . ?"

Joy gave Andrea a pitying look and sighed.

"Look, they'll always tell you that of course escorts don't automatically have sex with their clients, and at some agencies they make a thing of saying it's against their policy, and sometimes the girls do it but they're getting paid extra on the side, but your boss paid my agency four hundred dollars for the evening. Do you really think a guy pays that much for the privilege of buying a girl dinner?"

Andrea looked at the wall for a long moment. Finally Joy reached out and took her hand.

"Have you ever had sex with a man when you didn't really want to?"

"Yes."

Joy gave her hand a squeeze.

"Congratulations. You're now qualified to work as an escort."

Feeling very much unqualified, Andrea looked toward her office door, then balked. She got her raincoat from the closet and wrapped herself very tightly in it.

Joy looked at the coat, frowning.

"Wear that down to the car if you want, but don't let Mr. Huo see you in it."

"Er, yes, I suppose not."

Andrea shook herself , brushed back her hair and put on a smile.

"Okay. Guess I'm ready, then."

Joy pulled her own coat on over her semi-nude body.

"Oh, one more thing, Andi. Be sure to give it a good wash before anything else. It really does make a difference."

Andrea wilted inside, but said nothing. She was grateful to see that only Dick was still in the JCN suite.

"Okay," Dick said, "the limo is downstairs. You'll pick up Mr. Huo at the Sheraton-in-the-Park and take him to the restaurant - it's some kind of ethnic place in Leichardt. Patty will be waiting for the two of you there."

"Ah-ah, Ms. Foster will be there," Joy said brightly.

Dick glared at her, but Andrea raised a hand.

"She has a point. The woman at the restaurant has to be Ms. Foster, and nobody else, for as long as this . . . scam of ours is running. And I've got to be Ms. Lee."

"Just tell him you're Joy," the escort corrected. "But you should call him Mr. Huo, or Sir, to start with, and find out what he wants to be called."

Andrea nodded. She'd have to be careful, while playing out this imposture, not to treat Mr. Huo or Patty as peers. They were business people; she was just hired help, more on a par with the limo driver or the waiters at the restaurant.

She was grateful that the driver was not one who was known to her. The fewer people she had to explain things to, the better. Fastening her seat belt, she gasped in shock - her skirt had ridden up to completely expose her vulva, with its thatch of blazing red hair, much brighter than her head hair. She tugged the skirt down frantically, hoping the driver hadn't noticed. Getting out at the hotel, she felt very vulnerable indeed. Walking through the lobby, she felt as though all eyes were on her. What did they think she was - a girlfriend, an escort, even a call girl? She wanted to run, but knew that would only attract more attention. Worse yet, it might make her breasts slip out of their inadequate cups, or cause the skirt to ride up.

Asking for Mr. Huo at the desk, she cringed inwardly, praying that someone had called ahead. The thought of the desk clerk ordering her off the premises, taking her for a whore, made her tremble with anticipatory humiliation. She relaxed momentarily when the clerk told her to go on up, then felt the knot of anxiety in her stomach tighten even further.

Once he saw her as "Joy from Selina's Perfect Evenings", she would be committed to that role. It occurred to her for the first time that she could never meet with him, ever, as Andrea Foster. How would they manage that, if JCN did get the contract?

Too late for that now, though. The elevator opened on Mr. Huo's floor, and an arrow pointed towards his suite.

Showtime, she thought to herself.

She was met at the door by a Chinese woman almost as beautiful as Joy, who led her to a couch and offered to bring her a drink.

Alcohol sounded like an awfully good idea right then. Andrea decided she could allow herself two stiff drinks for the evening, and saw no reason not to start before she had to meet Mr. Huo. The couch turned out to be the more problematic offer, but she found that if she tugged her skirt down carefully as she sat and kept her knees together, she could sit without exposing herself.

Mr. Huo came into the room just as Andrea was finishing her drink. She popped a breath mint in her mouth and rose carefully to her feet, smoothing down the hem of her dress with as casual an air as she could manage. Smiling, she extended her hand.

Huo Menbiao was quite tall for a Chinese man, lean and leathery, with thick silver hair. Andrea was relieved that he was not fat. His smile was pleasant, his teeth were yellow but even, his breath blessedly not noticable. Andrea noticed the way she was assessing him, very differently from the way she would normally size up someone met in the course of business. But of course, she was working in a different business this time.

Andrea exchanged pleasantries with Mr. Huo while she fought inwardly for self-control. She reminded herself that she still didn't know for sure that Mr. Huo would expect her to sleep with him. Anything was possible; he might even be impotent, at his age. Why borrow trouble?

Crossing the lobby a second time was even more humiliating. A woman in a short, clingy dress asking after a guest at the desk was suggestive; the same woman leaving on the arm of an elderly businessman was blatant. Everyone who saw them together would presume they knew just what she was. Perhaps they were right.

At the restaurant, a small but nice-looking place called Otuken, Andrea felt another moment of panic. What if someone she knew recognized her? A friend might say the wrong thing before Andrea could ditch them, and expose the JCN executives' crazy scheme.

Andrea was relieved when the hostess led them to a private dining room, but then she saw that there were only cushions, no chairs, and the floor was spread with a huge white cloth - there wasn't even a low table, as there would be in the old Japanese style. How was she supposed to sit there and not flash her twat at Patty and whoever else was at dinner?

Worse yet, "whoever else" turned out to be Ben and Gim, plus Dan, the freelance programmer who was Patty's boyfriend. It had been bad enough that her designers were going to know what she had done, but she'd hoped that they at least wouldn't see her dressed like this, perched demurely at Mr. Huo's elbow.

It was a cozy little dinner party: Mr. Huo with "Miss Joy", Dan with "Ms. Foster", Ben and Gim with a couple of giggly young interns. Andrea's male subordinates were clearly enjoying the sight of their boss humbling herself for the company's sake, and Dan was clearly regarding this as payback for a run-in she'd had with him over promises he'd made to customers. Andrea had no choice but to sit there, attentive and decorative, while Patty was introduced to Mr. Huo as Andrea Foster and they proceeded through an exquisite dinner.

Mr. Huo was actually quite charming in his way. He explained that the restaurant was Uighur, and that he had acquired a taste for Uighur cooking while doing development deals in the Uighur Autonomous Region. It was good food: mutton and chicken kebabs, crunchy flatbread, noodles and dumplings. In spite of herself, Andrea found herself enjoying the meal.

After the waitress had cleared away the plates and the cloth, Patty pulled out Andrea's laptop and delivered Andrea's presentation: Sunwukong would adopt JCN's Joe-2 motherboard for its new automobile navigation system, and build a plant to manufacture them in the Uighur territory, taking advantage of their lax environmental and labor regulations, and JCN's existing relationship with the local authorities. Andrea had to admit that she did a good job.

The presentation received warm praise but no hint of a decision from Mr. Huo. Handshakes all around, and then the limo was waiting to take Mr. Huo and his companion back to the Sheraton-in-the-Park

The sun was bright and warm, the sky disgustingly beautiful, as Andrea shuffled from the doors of the Sheraton to her waiting cab. Why couldn't it have the decency to be as gray and miserable as she felt?

As humiliating as the evening at the restaurant had been, what followed had been worse. The old bastard had bragged about his medicinal cocktail: Viagra and Cialis, crushed to make them hit faster. Tiger gall, extracted from E. coli spliced with tiger genes. All poured into a little cup of canned pick-me-up that contained 300 milligrams of caffeine and 50 of methamphetamine. Why couldn't the son of a bitch have had a heart attack, tossing down a witch's brew like that?

He'd had her in every position she'd ever heard of, with some nasty little fetishes thrown in, literally for hours. He'd left her sore the next morning, which no other man ever had, even that well-hung marathon runner. He'd also left her feeling unspeakably used.

The fact that she'd climaxed three times didn't do wonders for her self-respect, either.

And now, back in that damn dress (which seemed to have gotten smaller during the night), she was taking the Walk of Shame like a hung-over college girl heading back to her dormitory. At least she'd thought to bring enough cash for a cab ride.

A shower at home, orange juice and naproxen, a clean suit (trousers never felt so good), and she was ready to go in to the office. She made it by 10:20, and thought she could be excused the lateness.

She felt better by the time she arrived at JCN. In her suit, and daytime makeup, she looked like the resourceful professional who had saved the company, and she'd convinced herself that that was how she'd be treated.

Unfortunately, the first person she met was Gim, who looked her up and down, smirking.

"You're looking quite well this morning, Andi. All recovered after taking one for the team?"

Andrea was too shocked to reprimand him properly. She simply brushed past him and headed for her office. Along the way, she passed a group of people talking. One of them was the intern who had sat beside Ben. The whole group fell silent as she passed, and made little effort to hide the fact that they were staring at her.

She found her laptop on her desk, her suit on a hanger on the coat rack. She checked the laptop's files and everything seemed to be in order. A new file on the desktop proved to be a memo from Patty, with some notes and suggestions about the contract. That presumption annoyed Andrea - Patty appeared to be enjoying the role of "Ms. Foster" entirely too much.

This suspicion was strengthened when she saw Patty herself, wearing a suit for the first time since she'd hired her. At least it was Patty's own suit this time; she'd invested in something from Liz Jordan.

They went to work without speaking directly about what had happened the night before, but the tension between them was palpable. Patty was definitely more confident in herself, quicker to offer her opinion. Andrea had to admit that the younger woman knew information technology better than Andrea had supposed.

The week passed slowly, and not easily. If Patty were more assertive, Ben and Gim were positively insubordinate. They seemed to have lost all respect for her, and she couldn't seem to find a handle to get them back under control.

On Friday, Alex came to her office, giving her a smile that looked just a bit forced.

"There's big news, Andi. Huo just called, Sunwukong's sold on your proposal, and he's flying out to sign the contracts on Monday."

He swallowed.

"He also wants us to get him the same girl as last time."

Andrea looked at him, aghast, and started to angrily refuse. Then she sat back heavily and sighed.

"All right. But this can't go on forever."

Andrea called the agency and arranged with Joy to meet on Saturday for dinner, more advice and instruction, and moral support. That, at least, was something good coming out of the situation: Andrea quite liked Joy, and enjoyed the excuse to see her again.

Joy and Andrea wound up talking late into the night, until they were very tired and very drunk. Joy slept over, and on Sunday they went shopping and bought Andrea a dress suitable for seeing Mr. Huo.

Andrea hoped that at least she could keep her second night as an escort quieter than her first, but when she left the office at 4:30 on Monday, she ran into Gim, who gave her a despicable grin.

"Leaving early to get ready for your big date?" he said loudly, alerting others nearby. To her fleeing back he called, "Looks like you've finally found your true calling!"

Once again it was dinner with Mr. Huo, and then back to his hotel for long hours of hard use. This time, she was so worn out that she slept through Mr. Huo's getting up and going out, and didn't wake up until the cleaning cart arrived. Huo had checked out and the hotel needed the room, so she was forced to dress hastily under the eyes of the chambermaid and then flee. By the time she got home, it was after one, so she didn't bother to go in to work at all. On Wednesday morning, she found everything in order, much to her relief - and somewhat to her disappointment. Patty was wearing a new suit, she noticed, a much better one.

On Friday, Dick flagged Andrea down in the hall.

"Andi? We've come up against a new problem with Ms. Foster," he said, leading the way to his office.

They had fallen into the habit of calling Patty "Ms. Foster" in connection with Sunwukong executives, as a way of distinguishing her from Andrea, and from Patty the secretary.

"Sunwukong wants Ms. Foster to go to Uighur-land to oversee the setting up of the first plant."

"But … she's just a secretary!"

"Not any more, she isn't – she's proved herself capable of doing the job."

Her job.

"What! She's made what, one presentation, in my clothes for goodness sake, and had lunch with Huo a couple of times! I'm the one who's done all the real IT work!"

"She's also handled some very tricky requests from the client over the phone."

"Over the phone…?"

"Oh, you might not even know about that business on Tuesday. I'm afraid Andi – I mean, Patty – handled it all by herself."

Andrea gaped at him, horrified.

"You're putting my calls through to her?"

He shook his head, then fixed her with a firm glance.

"The company needs to speak with one voice. Andrea Foster needs to speak with one voice."

"And she's Andrea Foster to Mr. Huo," she said helplessly.

"Exactly. So, we need to get her a passport in that name, and other papers. Legally, she can use any name so long as it's done without intent to commit fraud, but it gets a little sticky since there are two Andrea Fosters here. We don't want Sunwukong to know that if we can avoid it, or else this whole setup with you and the escort service is liable to come out, and embarrass all of us."

"Yes, we'd all be pretty embarrassed, wouldn't we," Andrea observed dryly.

The next day, a Sunwukong rep visited the office. Andrea stayed home, allowing Patty to be Ms. Foster for him. In the afternoon, she got a call from Joy: the rep had asked the agency for "Miss Joy, the girl Mr. Huo had recommended." Andrea agreed to see him, almost grateful for the chance to make herself useful in some fashion.

It proved to be an educational experience: young Mr. Xiang introduced her to bondage, in addition to sharing Huo's fondness for anal sex.

He also took surprising pleasure in pinching the soft flesh of her belly. The next morning, she used her gym membership for the first time in a week, and spent over an hour on the ab machine.

She also visited the offices of Selina's Perfect Evenings, at the owner's insistence. There was to be no more of this awkward business of Andrea's impersonating Joy Lee; instead, she would be hired by the service as an occasional employee, under the name "Andi Joy", and be paid for her work the same as any of the other girls.

Mr. Huo seemed to be staying in Sydney indefinitely, carrying out Sunwukong business of one kind or another. It was all too likely that he or one of his people would be calling for "Miss Joy" again.

Filling out the paperwork, Andrea concealed all outward signs of a vague unease and an odd excitement, but she burst out laughing when she saw that her official job title was to be "substitute".

Two days later, Andrea was at her desk, ignoring the program she was supposed to be debugging, looking over her finances on her PDA. The problem hadn't gone away on its own. She was still short nearly five hundred dollars for the month. Her check from JCN had been late, and short, as usual, and the next one promised to be even more so in both those dimensions. She was no longer struggling; she was officially strapped.

Her cell phone rang. She recognized Joy's number.

"Joy?"

"Andi, listen, I'm in a difficult situation. My father's wife is sick and Dad's going to pieces. He really needs someone to look after him overnight, but I have a client tonight - can you cover for me?"

Andrea had a hard time at first understanding Joy's words, simple as they were.

"You want me to - this client, he's not one of Mr. Huo's people?"

"Huh-uh. I haven't seen him before, but he's a regular with Selina's, so I know he's okay."

"No, I mean . . . ."

What did she mean? Joy was asking her to play the role of a girl from the escort service, just as Andrea had done a number of times before. But this time, not as a desperate measure to save the company (and Andrea's own assets), but simply as a favor for a friend. As though this really were Andrea's normal line of work.

It wasn't, of course, but still, Joy was a friend, she'd helped Andrea prepare herself for that first time, given her reassurances afterward, and had later given her more systematic and in-depth instruction in how to pass herself off as a professional escort.

Joy was a good friend, and she was clearly in a serious jam. Maybe . . . .

"It'll pay the usual rate, and this guy is a good tipper."

That meant four hundred dollars, maybe more, and it would come in faster than money from JCN. In her current situation, she needed that money.

"Tell me about this client. Does he have a file at Selina's?

As the elevator rose, Andrea checked herself in its mirror-surfaced door. She hadn't paid much attention to makeup since high school, but lately she'd been taking a lot more care with it. For "Miss Joy", it was a tool of the trade and would reward diligence. And if she was going to take time over her makeup for that false identity, it seemed inappropriate to take less care with her own, worn under her own name.

She looked just fine, she concluded as the elevator doors opened. Laptop over her shoulder, she marched confidently down the corridor to the JCN offices and walked straight into pandemonium.

People were shouting in the foyer. Loud arguments were taking place in back offices. Ephraim Helder, the CFO, had pulled a drawer from some filing cabinet and was spreading papers from it across the reception desk. Dick was screaming into his cell phone, while he pounded his forehead with his free hand and kicked the wall repeatedly with one foot.

For once, Alex seemed almost as wild as Dick, but she had to ask somebody what was going on. She grabbed his arm as he rooted through papers alongside Ephraim and forced him to notice her. He stared for a long moment before speaking.

"You've got a fat nerve showing up here, after you and your doppelganger looted the fucking company."

"What? Alex, what're you talking about, what's going on?"

"What's going on? First, Ms. Foster the fucking Second sells the patents to the Joe-2 to the Chinamen, hides the whole thing from us, puts the money in company accounts and then you come along and clean them out!"

"My God. She sold the Joe-2?"

"How nice for the yellow bastards. They get the motherboards, they get the factory in fucking Uighur-vania, and they don't have to pay us a fucking thing beyond the pittance they paid for the patents, and we don't even get that! You've got it!"

Andrea stared, aghast.

"No wonder the bastards have a seat on their board for Ms. Andrea Fucking Foster!" Alex shrieked, shaking a finger in her face.

"But that wasn't me, it was Patty!''

"Oh, it was, was it? And you gave her the codes for the company accounts?"

"No! I had them encrypted!"

Light dawned.

"Dan, it must have been Dan! He's an old hacker, he must have decrypted the codes."

"And can you prove that?"

Andrea stared at him helplessly.

He looked away from her and said, "Get out. There's no Andrea Foster who's welcome here anymore."

Andrea fled from the shrieking chaos at JCN. It was so frantic there that nobody seemed to have even noticed her presence. As the door was closing behind her, she heard Dick scream "There she is!", which inspired her to run to the stairs, not waiting for the elevator.

Out on the street, she tried to think what to do next. After taking a blow like that one, JCN was sure to go down, and even if the staff kept quiet about the whole charade of substitution, there would be indictments handed down against Ms. Andrea Foster.

She needed to talk with someone, preferably without having to explain the whole sordid business of the two Andrea Fosters. But aside from the officers of JCN, that left only . . . .

Joy's fingertips slid lightly along Andrea's shoulders, then suddenly sank deep into a tight, knotted spot in the middle of each. The fingertips felt like an acupuncturist's needles, painful but liberating. Joy held them there for a long moment, then moved her hands, her right on Andrea's left shoulder, her left going to the lower point of Andrea's left deltoid muscle. The two points seemed to be connected somehow, and Andrea felt the burden begin to lift from her. She took a sip from her glass of Yellow Tail and closed her eyes, savoring how the light of the dozen or so candles shone through her eyelids.

"Mmmmmm. What do you call that?"

"Jen Shen Dao. Also known as acupressure."

"Ancient Chinese folk medicine, right?"

"Yes, but actually I learned it at the YWCA."

Andrea took another sip of wine, then a swallow.

"So, whether there was one Andrea Foster or two, Andrea's reputation is ruined and there may be criminal charges. And what do I do now?"

Joy shifted her hands, working one pair of pressure points, then another, lingering patiently until the points had relaxed as much as they were going to.

"I think your best bet is to just let that name go, hon. I can help you get papers, good solid papers with records to back them up. You can start over as someone else, and if anyone has to take the fall for that mess, it can be Patty."

"But my degrees, my credentials, they're all Andrea Foster's. My job references, too. How would I make a living?"

Joy moved around to sit across the coffee table from Andrea. She moved two of the candles and invited Andrea to put her feet up. When she'd slipped off her sandals and put her feet on the tabletop, Joy lifted one foot, cupping the heel in her palm, and began kneading the sole with her other hand.

"Take a look at your last bank statement, hon. I think you'll find that almost half your income last month came from Selina's, and you were working a lot less than full-time."

Andrea looked up, eyes wide.

"You mean . . . go on seeing Mr. Huo and the others? Just . . . be an, an escort for real, full-time?"

"Why not? You already know the job, and you know you're good at it."

She gave Andrea's foot a squeeze.

"And you've got a friend in the business."

Andi checked her messages and her e-mail, then shut down her laptop. She had two hours to have supper, shower, change and get downtown to her assignment for the evening.

She worked for Selina's full-time now. And she was Andi Joy full-time, also. Her birth certificate, passport and other documents, carefully prepared by Joy's mysterious "friends", ensured that her new identity was solid and secure.

Andi and Joy shared an apartment, and Andi suspected it was just a matter of time until they were sharing a bed. She was still reluctant to cross that line, but Joy was such an awfully good friend, and she was there every night, and Andi had already done so many things she would never have believed she could ever do.

Andi Joy was very popular. Mister Huo was a regular, every Friday night, and sometimes on other nights. Various other Sunwukong executives also called for her often.

So did Ben and Gim. Her former subordinates loved having her at their beck and call, and thought four hundred dollars a night a reasonable price to pay for the privilege.

Joy had helped her refine her appearance for the job. Her hair was now a brighter red, exactly matching her pubic hair (there was something disturbing but appropriate in the symbolism of that). Her glasses had been replaced by contact lenses that turned her eyes a brighter green. She'd kept up at the gym, working out five days a week at Joy's urging, and when her membership expired, she switched to a less expensive gym. She'd gotten the implants Joy had suggested on the night they met. Later she'd gone back for bigger ones, and was now a D-cup.

Things had changed for other people, too. Mr. Huo now lived full time in Sydney, head of the new Australian division of Sunwukong. JCN had indeed gone under, and its staff had scattered to the winds, but Ben and Gim were still working together, hired by Mr. Huo. Dick was now a manager at Aspect Computing, and Dan, suddenly dumped by Patty, was working in security for Ferntree Systems.

As for Patty, nobody was quite sure. "Ms. Andrea Foster" had simply disappeared. Nobody seemed to know what had become of her, but there were some interesting possibilities. She might have decided that the name Foster carried too many risks, and persuaded Sunwukong to buy her yet another new identity. She might have seen the opportunity for some new scam, and created a new persona for the occasion. She might have fallen afoul of the criminal gangs who ran so much of the Uighur Autonomous Region. It was easy to offend a Uighur, after all. They believed they were the world's original race, older than all the others, and their ethnic pride was something inconceivable.

There were even nomads still roaming in Uighur territory, who were said to prize blonde women. On bad nights when sleep was slow to come, Andrea would sometimes console herself in imagining an interesting fate for Patty.

Tonight was what the agency called a "hostess" assignment. That was a polite way of saying she would be entertaining more than one client. A single-client escort was paid four hundred dollars, while a hostess was paid eight hundred, for as many as six clients in a party. Some of the girls refused to take hostess jobs, or limited them to three clients at a time, but Andi actually preferred them. It meant twice the pay for the night, and most likely tips from each of the clients, but there was another reason for Andi to like them.

Since becoming an escort she'd discovered many things about herself that she'd never suspected, not the least of them being just how much she loved the male organ. There was nothing she liked so much as having a large, firm one inside her, or better yet two. On all fours, with one entering from behind and another in her mouth, the sliding flesh occupied her entire awareness and she could completely ignore the whining, selfish, demanding creatures at the other end.

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