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  1. So I couldn't help but be inspired, after BabySofia kind of enshrined this piece with a reference in "Exchanged", to continue on with the story. Hope you guys like the latest chapter, I think it adds a number of interesting wrinkles to be ironed out later... Forward "I'm Eileen Vaux, WILY News, and these are the top stories of the day. At Municipal High Court today, Pauletta Keaira has been convicted of first degree murder in the brutal slaying of her adopted mother, Miranda Guilory. The ruling has sparked both celebration and outrage, as Pauletta's family and friends have repeatedly clashed with CAMOL demonstrators outside the courthouse during the proceedings. Let's go to Tate Cozbi, who is on the scene." "Thank you, Eileen. It took a mere 47 minutes for the jury to find Miss Keaira guilty, sparking an outcry from her supporters and promises from CAMOL representatives to appeal. I've been told Miss Keaira's own testimony was the biggest blow to her case, as she admitted on the stand that, at the time of the killing, Miss Guilory was only preparing to administer punishments that Miss Keaira had already received in the several months she'd been living with Miss Guilory. In his closing argument, Prosecutor Daniel Hegarty insisted that Miss Keaira was therefore not in life-threatening danger when she stabbed Miss Guilory, and therefore must be found guilty." "Now we've heard previously from CAMOL officials who have said that Amazonian law does not grant the same rights to adopted Littles that it does to Amazonian children when it comes to abuse, is this correct?" "Yes, Eileen. In fact, one of the major issues raised by the defense in this case was the fact that Miss Keaira was adopted against her will, which stripped her of the rights she had as an adult free Little, but then she was not protected under child welfare law while under Miss Guilory's care, and after she killed Miss Guilory, she was then tried as an adult." "And how have legislators responded to this watershed case?" "Well, the prime minister has urged Parliament to draft some sort of legislation that at least provides a measure of consistency for adopted Littles, but there is fierce debate right now over what exactly that should look like. CAMOL, of course, is demanding that what it terms as kidnapping of Free Littles be banned, but lawmakers are hesitant to make such a sweeping change." "Thank you, Tate. I have with me here in the studio Malinda Attor, president of the pro-adoption group ELNAP, to discuss the verdict. Malinda, what is your official position on the matter?" "Thank you, Eileen. We at Every Little Needs A Parent believe that this tragic situation could easily have been avoided if the law viewed Littles the way everyone else already does, as children." "Could you elaborate on that position, Malinda? How do you feel the law should handle Littles?" "Well, Eileen, if it weren't that so many of these so-called Free Littles get these ideas in their heads that they're adults and should have the same rights as Amazonians, they would accept their place in society as being in need of caretaking by loving Amazon parents and be happy when an Amazon takes pity upon them and adopts them. We believe strongly that Miranda Guilory would still be alive today, and that none of what CAMOL is calling child abuse would have happened if Pauletta weren't so convinced by Free Little brainwashing that she were a grown woman capable of taking care of herself. It's high time Parliament put an end to this insanity, and we at ELNAP intend to do everything in our power to make sure it happens." "So how do you propose Parliament rectify the situation?" "Very simply, Littles don't belong in adult Amazon society. Right now, when they reach age 20, they're assumed to be adults just like Amazons, and they can get jobs and sign leases and borrow money and a whole lot of other responsibilities they are just not capable of handling. Every time we turn around Littles are getting mugged, raped, and all sorts of horrible things because they just aren't capable of taking care of themselves! They can't drive, they need special accomodations in their apartments, I mean, come on, a Little needs to carry a ladder with her to go grocery shopping, else she has to ask every stranger in the store to get her anything that isn't on the bottom shelf!" "But that's just a size issue, Malina, surely you're not suggesting..." "There's an old saying about that, Eileen. It goes, 'I used to have the same problem, but I grew out of it.'" "Thank you, Malina. Miss Keiara is currently being held without bail pending her sentencing hearing on Thursday. I'm Eileen Vaux, and this is WILY News." 1 "This is a bad idea, that's all I'm saying." His voice has grated on your nerves for the last two months, but none as severely as today. "Dammit, Mike," you huff back as you snatch the blazer, slacks, blouse, and personal care kit out of his hands, "we wouldn't BE here if that bitch had respected the fact that I'm a grown fucking woman, not a child!" "Paulie, I'm your lawyer. I'm trying to look out for you here. The DA is seeking the death penalty. You wear that suit and they'll see a grown woman who killed someone and deserves to face justice! I can have my wife bring one of my daughter's old dresses in a few minutes here, and they'll see what we were trying to show them all along, a confused little girl who..." "I'm NOT a confused little girl, Mike! I'm twenty-one years old, and before I got kidnapped by that psycho, I had my own goddamned LIFE!" And with that, you storm into the ladies' room. Well, you storm towards the ladies' room, but you have to ask the bailiff that has been charged with making sure you don't disappear to open the huge door for you. Which doesn't improve your mood any. You find an unoccupied stall and, after a couple of hops, manage to flip the lock on the door to keep it closed while you strip away that awful orange jumpsuit. God, that thing made you look like a rotten carrot with your straight brown hair flopping all over the place. The feel of the sleek silk blend on your legs as you slide the pants on is, in a word, glorious, after two months in that horrible polyester thing preceeded by another two in... well, you don't really even want to think about how many days and nights you spent in that wretched plastic nightmare. One great thing about solitary confinement; the only distractions to regaining your bladder control were in your head. After donning the blouse and blazer, you do the best you can with your hair and makeup in the reflection from the toilet paper dispenser. If they're determined to martyr you, well by god, you're going to go out proud, and everyone in that courtroom is going to know that you're not some inferior being fit only to be treated like a helpless infant. If this is your destiny, then you're going to meet it with a roar, not a whimper! Full of bluster, you turn to unlock the stall and, of course, have to hop a few times to knock the latch loose. Undaunted, you strut toward the door and... pound on it as hard as you can. The wind rushes right out of your little sails of fury as Mike opens the door from the other side, and you meekly step back out into the lobby under his outstretched arm. "You look good, Paulie," he says with a sigh. "Let's get this over with." The courtroom has taken on a degree of uncomfortable familiarity, and it has indeed bred contempt within you as you scramble your way into the defendant's chair, adorned with that loathsome plastic booster seat. You hate this stupid booster. Six months ago, you didn't have to use these stupid things. Six months ago, you were about to be a woman, a legal adult, a respected member of the community in Amaratos, the island that seems so impossibly far away now. "Pauletta," he said, his face devoid of emotion, "I'm going to ask you once more." "Don't bother!" you shriek. "I'm not marrying that pig, Papa! I'm not going to spend the rest of my life being miserable just so you can feel like you're a big shot! Tomorrow I'll be twenty, and you'll no longer have control over my life!" The argument last night was fierce, and you prepared yourself for this moment, knowing it was going to come to this. Your clothes are already packed, and what little cash you were able to save is already safely hidden in your stocking. It's not even a surprise when he announces, "Then go. Go and never return." You dash to your room as Mama begins to blubber and beg and plead with him, grabbing the gym bag you stuffed to bursting last night and storming toward the door. "Pauletta, please, listen to your father!" she begs as you brush past, pulling loose from her grasp. What you weren't expecting was what happens when you step outside. The beautiful sunshine is doused almost immediately, the very second you walk through that door and into what you believed to be your freedom. Just that quickly, you're upside down, disoriented, and you quickly realize you're in a sack made of fine mesh and canvas. The mesh enables you to look straight ahead, not to mention breathe, but all you see is the back of whoever it was that snatched you, and the first thing you realize is that this person is much, much bigger than anyone you've ever seen. You hear your mother bawling even louder as a deep voice not connected to the person carrying you says, "Sign here." "I'm sorry that I failed to raise you propertly, Pauletta," your father booms. "Perhaps the Amazons can do better." "PAPA! NO! WHAT DID YOU DO?!" you scream as you kick and struggle vainly within the bag. Confused, terrified, but most of all angry, your last words to your father are, "I HATE YOU! I HOPE YOU DIE!" as you're thrown roughly into the back of a large vehicle. A series of doors slam, the engine jumps to life, and off you go into a kind of hell you never imagined possible... 2 "All rise for the Honorable Stephen Nechus!" the bailiff booms. You startle at the announcement, though you've heard it so many times before, and nearly lose your balance as you hurriedly spring up out of the booster and shift your legs out to the edges of the chair to find footing. The foul old man in the black robe shuffles to his seat silently, and the courtroom settles to the crack of his gavel. The entire trial he has treated you alternately with condescension and disdain, and at this point you're sick to death of him. Mike explained how this hearing was going to go; basically it's duelling psychologists, the prosecution's shrink making the case that you were of completely sound mind when you stabbed Miranda and are a lost cause now, while Mike's shrink trying to convince the judge that you were under extreme duress and that, with rehabilitation, you will no longer be a danger to society. Mike was rather vague, however, about what exactly "rehabilitation" meant, only that the goal was to get you into protective custody and that you'd be spending a pretty long time under the care of a psychiatrist. "Call your first witness, Mister Hagerty," the judge says disinterestedly. The DA rises and states, "I call Doctor Isaiah Machlon." Another white-haired old fool. You recall the hours you spent filling out his stupid little multiple-choice tests. He barely spoke to you in the visiting area, just glaring at you as you checked off box after box after box. He steps into the witness box, a folder in his hand, and is sworn in. The DA asks him about his findings, and he dryly begins to read straight from one of the pages in his little folder, babbling on and on about how you're "antisocial" and "passive-aggressive" and "narcissistic", and that you're likely to be "refractory to treatment" due to an "inability to recognize or admit flaws" and a "mistrust of authority figures". Your blood boils as he heaps on what you perceive as insult after insult, but you do your best to maintain a calm exterior. Still, your fists clench almost of their own accord as the old bastard deems you a poor candidate for treatment and at high risk for "recidivism" if they ever let you out. The DA sits back down, and Mike begins his cross. "How much time did you spend with the defendant during your examination?" he asks. "Four hours." "What tests did you administer?" He ticks off half a dozen different acronyms, a nearly smug look on his face. "That's quite an extensive battery," Mike says. Where the hell is he going with this? "I do my best to be thorough in my examinations." "Seems to me you didn't leave much time for an actual conversation. How long did you spend actually talking to the defendant?" "Well," he stammers, clearly blindsided by the question. "I... I don't see much need in trying to talk to a Little. It's common knowledge they're all pathological liars!" "Common knowledge?" Mike asks incredulously. "Do you have some sort of studies to support this assertion?" "Well, no, I just..." "It's fine, I'll concede your point. Yet, you had the defendant spend four hours answering questions on a test believing that she is incapable of telling the truth? How do we know she answered your questionnaires honestly? How can you put any stock in your assessment of her psychological profile knowing that she probably lied on all the questions?" "Well... I mean..." "Objection!" the DA shouts. "Argumentative!" "Sustained," the judge says. "Withdrawn. Nothing further, your honor." Mike struts back to your table confidently, and the shrink just scowls at him, then you, until the judge dismisses him. The DA seems unphased by the demolition of his expert, and you realize why rather quickly as he comes back to his feet. "I call Joseph Keaira," he announces. Your blood runs cold as you see your father rise from the back of the gallery and make his way to the stand. He's sworn in, and the DA has him introduce himself. "Mister Keaira," he begins, "Is it true that you signed the adoption papers allowing the defendant to be adopted by Miranda Guilory?" "I did," your father replies. "Why did you do that?" "Pauletta was promised to be married to Ernesto Vahan. The marriage was arranged when they were both very young." "But she refused to marry him, is that correct?" "She did. The night before their wedding, she told me she wouldn't do it. So, rather than allow my family's reputation to be sullied in our village, I sold her to the exporters and promised her younger sister to Ernesto." They continue their back and forth, but you're lost now, lost in the back of that truck again... "Please, I have money, I'll pay you more than whatever he did!" you plead as the truck rumbles along over the dirt road, bouncing you around in the sack. "I don't think you understand, little girl," one of them laughs. "He didn't pay us, we paid HIM! But when we get where we're going, we'll be getting a LOT more!" "Please, I'll give you all I have, just let me go!" "Where is it?" he asks. "It's... it's in my stocking!" The truck comes to a stop, and you feel a glimmer of hope. One of them begins fiddling with the top of the sack. "Now you be a nice little girl and don't be trying to kick me!" he says. He grabs your ankle and peels back your sock, snatching the small bundle of bills you had tucked away. "Pretty nice, little one. Thanks for the tip!" he laughs as he roughly shoves your ankle back and presumably recloses the sack. "NO! You BASTARDS!" you shriek as you kick at the top of the bag in vain. As you squirm and kick, you feel the bag once more being hoisted up, and you stop to try and peek out through the mesh. You catch a whiff of salt air, and you realize you're at the shoreline. Now you're desperate, in a full panic, and you start to weep. "Please, just let me go! Please! I didn't do anything wrong!" "Aw, poor baby," the other one sneers. "You made her cry, you heartless bastard!" You hear their boots thud onto wooden planks, and you're dropped roughly. You must be on a boat now. "Where are you taking me?" you whimper. "Don't worry, little one. You're gonna have a nice new home soon. The giants will take good care of you." The engine springs to life, and you lie there and sob quietly as you motor toward a place you've only heard of in your mother's warning fables when you were a tiny girl. You honestly believed that's all they were, just fables, but now... 3 "So, Mister Keiara, is it fair to say Pauletta's disdain for authority has been present since early childhood?" "Oh, she was always in trouble. Teachers, principals, myself and other family members, it didn't matter. She did what she wanted, consequences be damned. We tried everything. No punishment would deter her, no promise of a reward would coax her. I hoped getting her married a good young man from a prestigious clan would finally settle her down, having a family of her own and children to raise might change her, but when she refused to honor our family's promise to the Vahans, I knew it was hopeless." "Thank you, Mister Keiara. Your witness." The DA offers a smug grin your direction as he heads back to his seat, and you scowl back. Unbelievable, that your own father would betray you like this. "I have no questions for this witness," Mike says flatly. You look at him, stunned, but he just puts a hand on your back and mouths the words, "Relax, I got this." The DA calls both of Miranda's parents, to no one's surprise, and they both tearfully talk about what a wonderful person she was, and how she just wanted to love me and care for me, and that I was just impossible to deal with, that I fought her constantly, that they couldn't believe how ungratedul I was. And Mike doesn't cross-examine either of them. By the time they're done, you can practically feel the needle they're going to stick in your arm. And your so-called attorney is just sitting there and letting it happen. "I have no more witnesses," says the DA. "Go ahead, Mister Antonino." Mike stands up. "I call Doctor Ivan Metzger to the stand." The other shrink that spent an enormous amount of time with you. In fact, he made three trips. Except he really didn't do much in the way of testing, just asked a parade of questions, most of which seemed completely irrelevant to the trial or even your life. The old coot steps to the witness box and is sworn in. After he gives his credentials, Mike begins. "What are your thoughts on Doctor Machlon's assessment of my client?" "Between his obvious personal bias and the outdated testing procedures, that's exactly the conclusion at which I'd expect him to arrive." "You spent a pretty fair amount of time with Pauletta as well, didn't you?" "A total of nine hours over the course of three days." "And what is your assessment?" "There is no doubt that Miss Keiara suffers from numerous personality disorders, but to say that she's untreatable is foolishness." "How would you approach treatment if she were your patient?" "Intensive therapeutic support, focusing first on behavioral modifications, then, once rapport had been established, extensive cognitive reconfiguration. I'd accomplish this with both medication and direct behavioral therapy sessions centered around constantly challenging her perceptions of herself, other people, and the world around her." "So, psychiatric hospitalization?" "Not at all. I'd keep her in a residential setting with a guardian ad-litem with extensive experience in specifically interfacing with Littles. Her social skills are extremely weak; a hospital would be a poor milieu for addressing that deficiency. No, in fact, challenging her with difficult public situations would be a critical component of the treatment plan." "Wouldn't there be a concern for violent outbursts, considering her history?" "Miss Keiara is certainly oppositional-defiant, but violence is a tool of last resort for her. Even what happened with Miss Guilory wasn't an outburst, but a desperate, though calculated, response to what she perceived as an extreme threat." "Surely you're not justifying her behavior as self-defense, are you?" The DA furrows his brows as Mike asks this question. You wonder if Mike just stole his thunder for his planned cross-examination. "Not at all. Her perceptions are distorted, built from years of ineffectual authority in her life setting weak limits and failing to follow through on them, from her parents to her educators. Her mother was an enabler; any time Pauletta's father or any other authority figure tried to implement some sort of discipline, her mother would be right there to either help her escape it or otherwise diminish it. Limits are completely flexible and ambivalent in her mind as a result, and this is one of the key components that must be addressed in any sort of successful treatment plan. She must learn boundaries, and she must learn to embrace, rather than disdain, authority figures and discipline in her life." You find yourself biting your lip unconsciously as you stew over his assessment. Condescending bastard. And this is supposed to help how? "Okay, let's cut to the chase, then. How long do you think such a treatment program would take to complete?" "Depending on Miss Keiara's level of compliance, I'd estimate somewhere between 30 and 60 days to reach a stage where the court would be satisfied with her condition." "So, an Observation would be the acid test?" "Absolutely." "Do you know of someone who would be willing to take Pauletta on as a patient for such a treatment plan?" "A volunteer has already stepped forward. Due to the publicity surrounding the trial and potential security issues, I must keep his name anonymous, but he is similarly credentialed to me, a graduate of a very prestigious medical university with over two decades' experience in the field." "Thank you, Doctor. Nothing further." Mike walks back to the table with a smile, but you're even more confused. The DA stands. "Doctor Metzger, you just elucidated to us that Miss Keiara was responding to what she saw as an extreme threat when she murdered Miss Guilory, isn't that correct?" "I did." "So what stops her from responding to this treatment plan you've elucidated in similar fashion? What assurance do you have for the court that I won't be trying her for another murder before you can 'fix' her?" "Very simple. When she came into Miss Guilory's care, she was quite literally kidnapped by force from a familiar environment, brought here to the mainland, and deposited at Miss Guilory's door. She was already severely traumatized by this experience. Miss Guilory's administration of what we perceive as fairly normal discipline for a noncompliant Little just scared the poor girl even more, not to mention Miss Guilory's insistence on forcing the most infantile treatment on her right away. It was shock after shock to her system, and the more she fought, the more intense Miss Guilory's disciplinary actions became, to the point where we can all agree that, were she doing it to her own child, she would be facing charges of abuse right now." Well, for all his condescension, at least he's offering some vindication here. Until the DA pipes up and asks, "Your Honor, I move to strike. This was all pontification, and none of it answered my question." "Objection!" Mike speaks up. "Overruled. The witness' last statement shall be stricken from the record." Smugly, the DA continues. "So you're saying Miss Keiara is going to suddenly just comply with treatment?" "To a certain extent, here, she doesn't have much alternative. It's quite literally a choice of being compliant, spending the rest of her life in prison, or possibly being executed." "Aren't you concerned about her giving lip service, you know, just going through the motions?" "Sir, we're not speaking of talk therapy here. Lip service will be quite impossible, simply because the therapist will be interfacing with her constantly, around the clock. She couldn't possibly keep her guard up for an entire month." You know what's happening here. And, the fact is, you don't really want to die. But all these vague references to "intensive therapy" and "boundaries" and "discipline" aren't exactly reassuring. The DA badgers the doctor a while longer, but he's unflappable, really, and finally the DA gives up. Mike stands. "No more witnesses, your honor." You're stunned. His whole case for sparing you from the death penalty is a shrink with a nefarious-sounding plan to "fix" you?! "Thirty minute recess while I make my decision," the judge says, just as disinterested as he's been the whole trial. Once again, the crowd stands, and the judge shuffles back into his hobbit-hole. "I told you I had it," Mike says. "You call that 'having it'? Really? I don't know what river you're trying to sell me down with this whole therapy thing, but that judge looked like he didn't give two fucks about anything that was said!" You're trying to keep your voice down, but the frustration is starting to boil over. "He always looks like that, Paulie. I've tried fifty cases in front of him, and never once has his face been anything but stone unless someone really pissed him off. Trust me, if you had pissed him off, you'd know it, and we'd be up the creek." "You know what? Whatever, Mike. It's been out of my hands since the second I left my parents' place. Why would I believe I'd have any control over it now? If he comes back in here and sends me to my death, there won't be anything I can do about that either. Fuck it." "Well, if that's the closest to relaxing I can get you, I'll have to take it." "It is, Mike. It is." 4 "Misters Antonino and Hagerty and Doctor Metzger," the bailiff calls out suddenly. "The judge has requested you all in chambers." Your eyes widen, but Mike puts a hand on your shoulder and whispers, "It's okay, Paulie. This is a good thing. It means he's giving serious consideration to rehab over prison." He rises along with the DA and the doctor, and they all head into the door held open by the bailiff. It closes, and you're left alone in the front of the court, feeling the eyes of the gallery on you, especially the eyes of Miranda's parents, their hateful stares, full of fury and a lust for revenge. The same fiery look that Miranda herself wore every time you defied her, the one that disappeared so quickly when... It's early yet, but you know you can't wait too long. You had such incredible luck last night, managing to steal the little paring knife from where she carelessly dropped it while putting the dishes away. This may be your last chance for freedom, and you can't squander it. You played the role last night so well, showing her just enough affection to convince her that she had finally broken you, all while that knife sat hidden in your sleeper, safely tucked in the sleeve. She was so full of joy when she put you in the crib for the night, pulling you in close and rubbing noses with you before lying you on your back, and you played right along with her, accepting that horrible pacifier without a fight so she wouldn't strap it down again, giving her a sugary little "Goo-nye Mommy, I lub oo" from behind it. She grinned like an idiot as she stared down and responded, "I love you too, my precious little baby girl!" Now is your opportunity. The stage is set. Waiting for her to wake would be disastrous; you need every advantage you can get to pull this off, and her being half-asleep will be a decisive edge. You work yourself up into the most pitiful, sad-sounding cry you can, waiting patiently for her to show up at your door, the pommel of the knife in your hand, blade pointed back toward your wrist, hidden inside the cuff of the sleeper. You toss that miserable pacifier through the bars of the crib and onto the floor; with any luck she'll pick you up before she sees it. She arrives, bleary-eyed but smiling. "What's wrong, baby girl? Did you wake up all wet and icky?" "Pee-pee, Mommy!" you whimper, calming your whining down to a sniffle. "Mommy get that nasty wet old diaper off you!" she coos, hoisting you up and draping you across her left shoulder. She always puts you on her left side, so her right hand stays free. "Binky, Mommy!" you whine. "Binky!" "Oh did you drop your binky too? Let's see if we can find it." She looks in the crib, then down to the floor. "There it is!" she exclaims, bending down. This is the moment. Adrenaline rushes through you as she bends over; it's a short fall from here, far shorter than if she were standing. Quick as lightning, you flip the blade around as her hand makes contact with the rubber nipple. It slides into the side of her neck so easily; you landed the perfect shot, right into her esophagus. She drops you and reaches for her neck, her eyes a picture of horror as she gasps for air. Blood nearly sprays over everything as she pulls the blade out. She staggers back, coughing and choking, drowning in her own blood now as her hand futilely covers the wound. The crib, the floor, her nightie, and you, all covered in blood, and you lay there and watch her. She drops onto her backside, her eyes lock on you, and she starts to reach toward you with her free hand. You crawl backward, backing up against the wall as she falls forward, and you watch the light fade from her eyes as she coughs up more blood, drooling it out over her chin like garishly red spittle. Her hand reaches your foot, but there's no strength left, and it flops uselessly across your shin as her last breath leaks out and her head drops awkwardly sideways onto the floor, her eyes still open in a picture of shock. You shiver for a moment, stunned at what you've wrought, a pang of guilt rising at your deception. A bloody price you just paid for the promise of freedom. A solitary tear slips from your eye as the full weight of your deed falls upon you... "All rise!" the bailiff commands once again. Out comes the judge, followed by the three men who negotiated your fate. The judge sits; the rest of you do likewise. "It is this court's opinion," the judge booms, "that the defendant's actions were premeditated, meticulously planned, and devoid of remorse. For that alone, she is truly deserving of the supreme penalty under the law!" You cringe. They failed you, your lawyer and that wretched doctor. A white-hot ball of lead sits in your belly as you wait for your destiny to be pronounced. "However," he continues, "let it also be acknowledged that this court is not only just, but merciful. A plan has been laid before me to afford the defendant one last chance to prove herself fit to exist in our society, and it is a plan that I hereby approve. The defendant shall appear at the Maritonia Psychiatric Center in thirty days for a formal Observation, after which she will be brought before this court for a formal accounting of her condition. If she is demonstrated to no longer be a danger to society, she will be remanded to the guardianship of the doctor who will be treating her between now and in the future. Otherwise, she will be scheduled for execution by lethal injection as soon as is expedient. Court is adjourned!" His gavel crashes down, and the gallery erupts. "BAILIFFS! CLEAR THE COURTROOM!" he shouts over the din. From within the chaos of the crowd you hear Miranda's mother scream, "I'LL SEE YOU DEAD, YOU LITTLE BITCH!" "Come on," Mike says, swooping you up into his arms. "We gotta get you out of here now!" He walks swiftly out a side entrance and down several halls, snaking deeper into the courthouse, down the paths toward the holding cell area. "What the hell is happening?!" you bark, but he doesn't answer. "Mike?!" "You'll be safe soon enough. Just trust me." You take little solace from his answer as the hallways blur by. Soon you find yourself in a parking garage, and you're being handed off to a tall, middle-aged giant. "Mike?! Where are you going?!" "I'll see you in a month, Paulie!" he says. "We'll be fine soon, Pauletta," the mysterious stranger says. "I'll explain once we get into the car." He strides over to a black SUV with darkly tinted windows and hoists you into a booster in the back seat, scanning the parking lot before he closes the door, then quickly jumps into the driver's seat. "I'm Artis," he says, firing up the engine and throwing it into gear. "Artis Barrett. I'm here to try and save your life." 5 "Eilieen Vaux, WILY News. We interrupt this program to bring you breaking news from Municipal High Court in the case of Pauletta Keiara, convicted last week of the brutal slaying of her adopted mother, Miranda Guilory. We're going live right now to Tate Cozbi outside the courthouse." "Thank you Eileen. Tate Cozbi, WILY News here. The scene here outside Municipal High Court is absolute mayhem right now, with both pro-adoption and pro-Littles-rights advocates outraged at Judge Nechus' decision in the sentencing hearing today on the convicted murderer, Pauletta Keiara. Police have formed a wall between the two crowds, and I'm told thirty-five people have already been made in conjuction with some violent clashes between the protestors today. I'm here with the parents of the victim, Miranda Guilory. Mr. Guilory, how do you feel right now about the judge's decision to allow for an Observation?" "My daughter deserves justice, and that [beep] stole it from her! The idea that Pauletta Keiara might go completely unpunished for what she did is inconceivable!" [scream from the crowd behind] "MIRANDA WAS AN ABUSIVE [beep]! SHE DESERVED WHAT SHE GOT!" [crowd noise intensifies] [Mr. Guilory] "GO TO HELL you [beep]!" [turns back to the mic] "Miranda went through all the proper legal channels to adopt that little psycho in there. She was a loving, caring woman who wanted nothing more than to embrace that [beep] as her own. Pauletta is a rabid animal, and she deserves to be put down!" [Mrs. Guilory speaks up] "My daughter did everything right by the system, and now the system has failed her! That [beep] in there deserves to die for what she did!" [Tate turns back to the camera] "Well, there you have it, Eilieen." "Indeed, some pretty strong emotions, Tate. I understand there is a whole other controversy surrounding the case at this moment as well?" "There is, Eileen. Pauletta's current wherabouts are unknown at this point as she was whisked away from the courtroom today. I'm led to understand that only four people know the identity of the person who currently has custody of Pauletta, that being the judge, the two attorneys in the case, and defense witness Doctor Ivan Metzger. So far, none of those parties have commented on the situation, but with the chaos going on out here, I have to presume all the secrecy is to protect both Pauletta and her caretaker from potential harm." "Thank you, Tate. A tense scene outside Municipal High Court, for certain. Join us again on the five o-clock news this evening, where we'll have Parliament member Tony Braen, CAMOL leader Benjamin Nabal, and director of the National Organization for the Care of Orphaned Littles, Alexander Dowling in studio for a roundtable discussion. I'm Eileen Vaux with Tate Cozbi, WILY News. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming." As the truck lurches out from the parking garage and into daylight, you finally organize your thoughts enough to speak. "Who are you and where are we going?!" you ask, suppressing your panic and indignance over being passed around like a hot potato. "I'm the doctor who has been assigned to get you ready for Observation," he says. "And right now we're headed to a safe house." "I don't understand! What is all this observation crap?! Why can't I just go home?!" You can't help but feel like everything is happening around you and that you're little more than a helpless observer. "Look, Pauletta, I'm a member of CAMOL, so..." "I don't even know what that IS!" you plead. "It's an advocacy group that's trying to prevent what happened to put you here in the first place. Please, will you let me explain?" "Okay..." "As I was saying, there are a lot of us who would love nothing more than to get you out of here and back to your island, but to do that would cost me and your lawyer our licenses to practice and probably land us both in prison for a long time. So we've got to play ball with the court." "So why all the rushing around and secrecy?" "There are people out there who want to kill you, Pauletta. Me too, if someone found out who I was and that you were in my custody." "None of this makes sense! I was kidnapped, dumped in some apartment with this crazy person who decided to try and dress me and treat me like an infant, beat me and locked me in dark rooms and all sorts of other horrible things to get me to go along with it, and because I fought back, suddenly everyone wants to kill me? How is this even right?!" "You really don't understand how Amazon society works, do you?" "No, I don't! I don't get any of this! I mean, my mother used to tell me, 'you'd better behave or we'll send you off to the giants!', but that was supposed to just be a scare thing, not reality!" "I hate to tell you this, Pauletta, but it's all true. Here on the mainland, Littles are 'adopted' by Amazons all the time. And they go through all of what you did and worse. They're sent to brainwashing centers where they're taught by force how to be compliant and act like babies. They get all their teeth taken out so they talk in baby talk all the time and so they can't bite when their adoptive mother wants to make them breastfeed. And they get tendons in their ankles cut so they can only crawl. Grown men have sex changes against their will. Women have their breasts removed. All so their Amazon 'parents' can have perfect little babies that never grow up." You're completely in shock now. "How...?!" "How is it legal?" he finishes for you. "Because here, few people think of Littles as anything more than children who never grow up. It's hard for a Little to get anything but the most menial work. Housing for free Littles is scarce. The law doesn't even acknowledge Littles, other than the right of Amazons to adopt them at will. It's a horrible, horrible place for a Little to be." "So what happens now?" you whimper, trembling as you try to process this nightmare. "Well, the immediate right now, I hate to tell you, is that we have to change your appearance. Your face is all over the national news right now, and if you're going to live long enough to make it to Observation, we need to make you blend in." "How are we going to do that?!" you ask, not really wanting to know the answer. "By making you look like my daughter." 6 "Now just hold on a minute!" you snap, panic giving way to indignation. "What the..." "Relax, Pauletta. We need you to be able to blend in, so we're going to just do a little makeover to give you more the appearance of an Amazon child." "I don't want to look like a kid, Abel, or Andy, or whatever your name is!" "Artis." "Okay, fine, Artis. Why can't we just change my hair color or something?!" "Because people will start connecting the dots if they see me suddenly turn up with a Little in tow. The only clues the press is going to have is what Doctor Metzger gave in his testimony. And my colleagues already know I live alone and have ever since my boyfriend passed a few years back." "Oh wow, you're gay?" "Yes. Does that bother you?" "No, actually. Means I don't have to worry about you being all creepy." "I'll try not to take offense to that suggestion. Anyway, I can put together a cover story about a niece coming to visit a lot easier than I can explain away a sudden decision to adopt a Little right about the time it leaks out that you're under the care of a renowned psychiatrist in a round-the-clock setting but not in a psychiatric hospital." "Ugh... Okay, I get it, I get it. So what exactly is this 'makeover' going to entail?" "We'll just redo your hair, change color, do a more little girl type of hairstyle, you know, probably change your eye color too. Of course, the court's going to demand a tracking implant, but you'll hardly notice that. I'll be getting one as well; you need to be within 100 feet of me at all times, or the police will be alerted immediately. There'll also be a plastic surgeon on hand to do some other minor things like make your cheeks and chin a little more chubby. I think your chest is okay as it is, so long as we lose the bra." You wince at his assessment of your breasts. Not that any of the women in your village were particularly busty to begin with, but you always felt self-conscious about how small yours were compared to other girls at school. "Yeah, thanks," you mutter back. "Oh, and we're going to have to figure out a new name for you, too. But that can wait until after the makeover." Well, at least it doesn't look like they're going to try and babify you like that bitch did the very second she laid eyes on you... After what seemed like hours, the boat finally thumps into a solid object. A dock, no doubt. You've long since run out of tears, and now you're just numb, the fear having given way to a cold resignation as you listened to one of the men converse on the phone to the person you figured was going to "handle" you once you made land. There's no way out of this; you're just going to have to face whatever fate is coming. "Alright, we got all the papers in order?" a new voice calls out as you hear heavy footfalls on wooden slats. "All right here," one of the familiar ones says. "Poor little twerp's gonna turn twenty tomorrow. Fat lot that'll do her now!" He laughs, as do the others, and suddenly you're back in the air, rising off the floor of the little boat, only to be set back down on the much more solid dock. "Here you go, then, five thousand. Keep 'em coming; I got plenty of customers lookin' for wild ones that ain't already been housebroken, ya know?" "You keep payin' in cash, and we'll keep bringin' 'em, don't you worry!" "So, is this one a scrapper?" "Nah, she struggled a bit in the beginning, tried to buy us off with half a hundred rupees. It'll help pay off the next frustrated parent or husband or whoever." "You just make sure and stay legal with 'em; I don't need us bein' in the middle of some political crisis over you snatchin' someone ain't supposed to be snatched." "Don't worry about us, you just keep the money comin'. We got another one to go pick up out on Gethsemane Island right now. Long goddamn boat ride ahead." "Well get gassed up and get goin', and call me when you're back in range. We'll just be off, then, won't we, little one?" With that, he hoists you up over his shoulder. "Off we go then," he says cheerily. Through the mesh, you can see the figures of the two men in the boat fading away, huge men, six or more feet tall. As best as you can figure, this one is just as tall, bigger than any man you've ever seen on the island. What could these people possibly want with someone like you? As he hoists you into the back of another huge vehicle, your mind spins at the possibilities. Are you to be someone's servant girl? You imagine yourself scrubbing huge floors and standing on stepstools to wash dishes and prepare meals for these monsters. After a much longer but smoother ride than the one you experienced on the way to the boat, the vehicle lurches quickly, then comes to a stop. "Ride's over, little one!" he calls, and you hear what is presumably his door opening, then another door behind you shortly after. Back in the air you go, back over his shoulder. "They were right, you are quiet!" he says over the din of more vehicles passing by, the chatter of more people than you ever imagined possible in one place. You try to look through the mesh again, but somehow your position has shifted in the sack and you can no longer see. You're moving, is all you know, and the bustle of an enormous number of people is going on around you. It's not long before you come to a stop, and you hear a buzzer sound. "Hello?" a very deep, but distinctly female voice calls out, sounding almost like it came from a speakerphone. "Very special delivery for Miss Guilory," the man responds. Her pitch rises, and you can hear the excitement in her voice. "Wonderful! Come right up!" Another, louder buzzer sounds, and the man opens a door. The noise of the bustling streets is cut off, and now it's just his footfalls, seemingly going up a number of stairs. Another door opens. More footsteps. A knock on a door. The door opens. "Come in! Come in!" the almost giddy-sounding female speaks. Her tone changes again, almost scolding. "Oh the poor thing, was the bag really necessary?!" "They're quick little buggers," the man replies as he sets you down. "They'll take off on you in a second if you don't keep 'em wrapped up!" "Well let's see her, then!" "Right, right." The door closes, and you move a few more paces before you feel him fiddling with the bag, then turning you over and pulling it back over your head. The sight that greets you is terrifying; you thought these men were huge, looking six feet or more tall, but the woman that stands before you is positively enormous, easily nine feet or more! In a panic, your eyes dart around the room; it looks like normal furniture for a family room, but it's all sized for someone her height. You start to crawl backward away from the two towering figures, but you bump into something hard almost immediately. You turn and realize you've cornered yourself against a huge footstool, and you stop, trembling in fear. "Oh my god, she's adorable! What a tiny little thing! I thought you said she was full-grown?" the lady says, turning to the much shorter man. You feel incredibly self-conscious at your height, yes, you've always been short compared to the rest of the girls in the village, but at three and a half feet, the difference was never so stark as what you're feeling right now. "She is! Got the papers right here; she turns twenty tomorrow! You're a lucky one, Miss Guilory; lotta people would pay a tall premium to have a tiny one like this." She turns back toward you. "Oh and that sad little pauper dress! Did you sew that yourself, sweetie?" she asks, leaning down and grasping the hem as you cower before her. "N...no... my mother made it for me," you manage, trembling. "Well don't you worry, little girl, Mummy's got plenty of pretty clothes for you to wear here, much nicer than this!" She rights herself and turns back toward the man, reaching into the pocket of her blazer and producing a huge wad of bills. "Here you are. Eight thousand, just as we agreed." The man takes the wad from her and begins quickly flipping through it. "Looks like it's all here. I'll just be on my way, then. Enjoy!" He picks up the empty sack and starts toward the entrance. She opens the door. For a second, you think about making a run for it, but both of them are directly in your path; you'd never make it. "Thank you so much! You've made a lonely woman very, very happy today!" she says as he steps out, and she quickly closes the door behind him, leaving the two of you presumably alone in this cavernous space. Your eyes are fixed on her as she struts toward you. "Stand up for Mummy now," she instructs. "Let's have a look at you." You nervously slide up the footstool, struggling to keep your legs from shaking. "That's a good girl," she says. She reaches behind you, and your eyes follow her arm, but you can't see what she grabs off a nearby end table, though you quickly figure it out as huge scissors suddenly appear at the shoulders of your dress and snip, snip, it falls away, leaving you in your underwear, even more terrified now. She takes your hand gently and pulls you into the room, examining you back and front. "Those mean old men didn't hurt you, did they, precious?" You shake your head. "Good. Poor thing, you must have been just terrified in that horrible sack all this time." Another snip, and your bra falls to the floor. You cover your chest with your arms in embarrassment, and she snips away your panties as well. You cross your legs in front of you, stumbling as you try to hide your nakedness from her. "Oh, don't you worry, you adorable little thing. Mummy will get some pretty clothes on you in just a minute," she says, setting the scissors back on the table and, without warning, snatching you right up around your middle. She sits down in an enormous rocking chair, holding you tightly in her lap. You finally find your voice as the two of you slowly rock back and forth. "Wh... what's going to happen to me?" you ask. "Don't you worry, baby, I'm going to take good care of you from now on," she says sweetly, reaching into her pocket with her free hand. "I... I'm not..." you start, before her hand flashes in front of your face and a huge mass of rubber finds its way into your mouth. "MMPH!" you squeal, squirming and kicking, but her powerful arm holds you fast, and her hand covers your mouth locking your head in place against her enormous chest. "Just relax, baby, just relax," she says. You hear a click, and suddenly the rubber is expanding in your mouth, pushing your cheeks out wide. "MMMMM MMMM MMMMM!!" you nearly scream through your nose, flailing away uselessly with your arms and legs. Her hand comes away from your face and wraps around your entire torso, pinning your arms at your sides. You shake your head, grunting and squealing, trying to rid yourself of this thing in your mouth, but it's so huge now you couldn't spit it out if you wanted to. Her other arm, meanwhile, has made it's way down to your legs, wrapping them up and holding them fast as she calmly continues to rock back and forth in the chair. "Just calm down, baby, calm down and let Mummy love on you," she says. You continue to thrash against her, but she's far too strong, and before long your adrenaline runs out, and fatigue takes over. Your eyes fill with tears as you finally realize that a huge pacifier is now stuck in your mouth, and you offer a weak, whiny, "Mmmmm," in protest. "That's a good baby," she says, a tone of approval in her voice. "Don't cry, baby. Mummy's not gonna hurt you." She shifts the one arm under your legs and hoists you up, cradling you in front of here as she stands and walks down a huge hallway, stopping at a slightly open door. "Time to get my baby dressed!" she coos as she kicks the door open gently. The sight that greets you is more horrifying than anything you imagined possible... 7 "Yeah, we're about 5 minutes out... No, I'm pretty sure we got out clean, no one following us that I can tell... Got it... See you then..." Artis hits the terminate button on his phone and sets it in the console. The city has dissolved away, replaced by the serenity of grasslands, wire fencing lining the road beside you, cows and horses dotting the lush landscape. "Where are we?" you ask. Dumb question, for sure, but at the same time, this is the first open space you've seen here since those bastards carried you off. "About ten miles outside the capital," Artis replies. "Not quite the middle of nowhere, but far enough away that the cameras and microphones aren't likely to catch up to us before we get you fixed up." Oh yes, "fixed up". That's a delicate way of putting it. "Do we really have to go this far with it?" you ask, already knowing the answer. "Can't we just dye my hair or something?" Even the thought of ruining your long chestnut locks with dye makes you shudder, but... "Trust me, Pauletta, you're not going to want the kind of attention that will happen if someone figures out who you are. Neither of us will." You let out a long, frustrated sigh. "I'll be glad when this month is over," you mutter. "Me too," he says as he turns down what looks like a dirt driveway off to the left. A short, bumpy ride later and you arrive at a sprawling ranch house with a huge barn adjacent. He pulls the truck into the barn, and someone pulls the door shut behind you, leaving only the light filtering in from a few windows to illuminate this suddenly very gloomy place. "Here we are," he says, opening his door and stepping out. You fidget a bit with the buckle on your booster, but you lack the strength to release the latch. He opens your door and pops it loose, then helps you down to the hay-strewn dirt floor of the cavernous building. He leads you out and over to the main house, and you're greeted at the door by a heavy-set blonde woman maybe a foot or so shorter than Artis, but still enormous compared to you, who hurries you both in quickly, looking around outside before closing the door. "Glad you made it, Artis. You must be Pauletta," she says, sizing you up. "I'm Arlene, and I'm a hairdresser, but this is my family's farm. My sister's a plastic surgeon, and she and I've been doing these kinds of 'makeovers' here for a good while now." "Is Jolie here yet?" Artis asks. "She is; she's just getting into her scrubs upstairs." She must have noticed you cringing at the word "equipment", because she cheerfully adds, "Don't worry, Pauletta, you'll be asleep for the whole thing, and when you wake up, I bet you won't even recognize yourself." "Yeah, that's the part I'm not really looking forward to," you say glumly. "I know, sweetie," she says. "But I promise you, Jolie and I will be delicate. Artis already told us what a tough patch you've been through here lately." "How soon does Doc want to get started?" Artis speaks up. "She'll be ready to go in a few minutes." She looks back down at you and extends a hand. "Come on upstairs with me?" Nervously, you take her hand, and she leads you through a galley kitchen and up a set of stairs with old-looking, beautifully carved white slats supporting a dark hardwood handrail. "Jolie's the plastic surgeon, but she's gonna just do some little touches here and there to soften up your features, and then it's all on me." You resist the urge to pull away as she runs her fingers through your hair. "You got beautiful, thick hair, Pauletta. I'm pretty jealous, you know?" "Thanks," you murmur, still feeling very uncomfortable with this whole process. "It's okay, I'd probably be pretty nervous if I were you too." The two of you reach the top of the stairs, and she guides you down a hall, stopping to knock on a door on the right. "Come on in, I'm ready!" a cheery voice calls from the other side. Arlene opens it and ushers you in. As much as you can tell from the shapelessness of the medical outfit she's wearing, Jolie looks trimmer than her sister, but also shorter, maybe eight feet tall, and she smiles broadly as you enter. "Been a while since we had such a petite client!" she chuckles. "Are you Pauletta?" You nod quietly, feeling increasingly self-conscious. She squats to her knees and puts a hand on your shoulder. "It's okay to be scared. We're gonna get you fixed up quick and on your way, maybe even this evening, if everything goes right. Have you eaten anything today?" "No, food's kinda been..." you start. "I doubt I'd have much of an appetite either," she affirms. "How about you get changed over there behind the curtain, and then we'll get started?" Silently you walk over to and behind a makeshift blind set up in the corner of the room, where a hospital gown awaits you on a footstool short enough for you to sit on it. You strip down to your bra and panties and slip the gown on, doing your best to tie it behind you, though you're sure you didn't do a very good job of it. With a sigh, you step back out from behind the blind. "Good, good. Let me give you a hand here," she says cheerily, hoisting you up onto the bed in the middle of the room. You lie down and manage to stifle a squeak as she pricks your arm with a needle, attaching it to an IV bag dangling above you. "Ready?" she asks softly. "As I'm ever gonna be," you answer. "Okay, I'd like you to start counting backward from 100," she says, picking up a syringe and inserting it into the IV line. A subtle rush of cold shoots through your arm as you begin to count. "One hundred, ninety nine, ninety eight, ninety..." Your eyes droop, and the room begins to dissolve. "seven, ninety..." You open your eyes. The IV is gone from your arm, replaced by a small cotton ball held on by a piece of tape. Your blouse and pants are back on as well, which feels very strange. What is even stranger is that it's not Jolie but Arlene standing over you now, grinning ear to ear. "How do you feel, sweetie?" "Uh... disoriented?" You look down your arms, your eyes stopping on your hands and wrists. They look softer, almost a little chubby. You wiggle your fingers; they feel fine. Are you imagining things? This couldn't be right. You try to look around, and you realize your cheeks seem more in your field of vision than they used to be. You reach back to touch your hair. There's no doubt, it's much, much shorter now, and it's... curly? You grab a strand and tug it in front of your eyes; it's... strawberry blonde?! "You ready to see?" Arlene asks. You nod nervously. No, you're not ready, you're terrified, but you HAVE to see... She picks up a large mirror from a nearby table and holds it in front of you. The face staring back, those bouncy curls, the girly little bangs, the chubby cheeks, the pouty little lips, this isn't you, is it?! This is a kindergartner's face! And her eyes... they're bright blue! Adorably cute, bright blue, mystified eyes. What happened to your deep, dark, brown eyes?! Your throat starts to close, and tears begin to form in your eyes. "I... I..." Words fail you. Everything that horrible woman tried to take from you, it's all gone in an instant. There is no more woman, just a little girl playing dress-up in this suit. A tear streaks down the little girl in the mirror's cheek, and her little lip trembles. "Oh, Pauletta," Arlene says, her face a picture of sympathy as she puts the mirror aside. "I know it's a big shock, but you really are beautiful." "A beautiful... toddler," you whimper. You want to be angry, but all you feel now is empty, like someone just scooped out all your guts with a melon baller and left you a pile of skin. A pile of skin with adorably chubby cheeks and bright glassy blue eyes, and a bob haircut that's just begging for a great big pink bow on top. How can you face the world like this? How can you be anything but ridiculous trying to be proud and dignified with a face like this?! "What time is it?" you finally manage, dropping your head into your chubby little hands. "Four thirty," comes Artis' deep, powerful voice from the doorway. "As soon as you're ready, we'll head for home or, well, what's going to be home for the next month or so anyway." 8 Eventually you recover, or at least you gather yourself enough to where you're ready to get the hell out of this house of horrors. The two women offer encouragement as you leave, but it's just more empty words to you, someone trying to convince you that they didn't just strip you of your womanhood and that you actually look nice as a four-year-old, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to hear. As you re-enter the barn, Artis pipes up, "How does Rosalita sound?" "Huh?" you ask, surprised and a bit confused. "Your name. I can't go around calling you Pauletta or Paulie all the time, it'll be a dead giveaway." "Oh sure," you shoot back. "You've already taken my identity away, I might as well give up my name!" "Okay, so you're still pretty upset about the makeover, I'm sorry. Maybe now wasn't the best time to bring it up." "Rosalita's fine," you grump as he helps you into the truck and gets in himself. Arlene opens the barn door once more, and you pull out into the dim light of the dusky evening. "Rosalita, or Rosie, or Rose. I'll probably interchange them depending on the situation. At some point here, you need to stop addressing me as Artis as well, but one step at a time, okay?" "Sure. Whatever." Apparently he's content not to pursue it further, because he falls silent as the dimming scenery outside whips by. After riding silently for a few minutes, you finally realize you have to try and get your mind off this horrible "makeover". "So what exactly is this rehab thing supposed to entail?" you ask. "Well, they're going to put you in a room and basically try to goad you into getting violent. Every button they can push, they're going to push it, to see if you snap." "So all I have to do is hold my temper and I'm good, right? That sounds easy enough." "Trust me, Pau... I mean Rosie, it's not as easy as it sounds. You and I are going to spend the next month getting you accustomed to dealing with the kind of stuff they're going to do to you." "That... suddenly sounds very ominous. Like, what are they going to do to me?" "Well, there'll be bullying, and humiliation, and degradation, and I won't be able to help you once you're in there. No one's going to beat you up, obviously, because self-defense is still self-defense, but rest assured, it'll come right to the very edge of that line." "So... what are we going to do to 'get me ready'?" This is all starting to sound increasingly uncomfortable. "All you need to do, Rosie, is remember that everything that happens between now and the Observation is part of the process that we need to go through, and just do your best to roll with it. I'll handle the rest, okay?" "Well... I guess..." you offer, not entirely convinced. You fall silent, regretting your decision to try and "change the subject". This is definitely worse, this anxiety not only about what's going to happen a month from now, but what's going to happen between now and then. The landscape begins to change again, fields and forests giving way to houses and buildings. "Are we back in the capital?" you ask. "No, this is Maritania, about twenty miles outside Guajiro. It's much quieter, but it's big enough to where we have access to everything we're going to need here. Tomorrow we'll probably be doing some shopping at the big mall at the edge of town." Again with the ominous vagueries, and something much more pointed to dread; your first public appearance pretending to be an Amazon kid. Without warning, he announces, "Oh, I nearly forgot, we need to stop a the pharmacy." Almost immediately he pulls into the parking lot of a building with a tattered old neon sign that announces, "Ralph's Rx". Strange that he decided this so suddenly? Maybe, but certainly more strange when he insists you come in with him. Then suddenly it isn't so strange, just horrifying... "Good evening, Sir!" a deep, but cheery male voice booms. "What can I help you with?" "We need to get some appropriate underwear for little Rosie's bottom," Artis says nonchalantly. "Wait... what's wrong with the..." you stammer, recoiling from Artis as he suddenly latches on to your hand. "Artis, what the hell are you doing?!" "Of course, sir!" the towering, bearded man replies. "Right this way! Will she still be going potty on her own?" He leads the two of you straight toward the diaper aisle, Artis' hand locked in a death grip on yours as you vainly struggle against him. "Well I'm not sure," Artis replies. "Would Rosie like some pull-ups so she can go on the potty chair like a big girl?" he coos at you. "I don't need pull-ups, Artis! What the hell is this?!" "Well, I guess we have our answer," he replies. "Diapers it is!" the man declares. Artis set you up, and you fell for it like an idiot. "She looks to be about 120 pounds, am I right?" the clerk offers, looking you up and down. "One twenty?!" you snap back, indignant at his suggestion of you being so fat. "I haven't been more than 65 pounds in my life!" A broad grin crosses his face as he looks back at Artis. "Only way to get the truth out of a Little is to offend their vanity," he says, laughing. "By the way, she's adorable, but as soon as she opened her mouth she gave herself away." You feel like a bigger idiot for being so easily manipulated a second time. "I recommend the Comfeez Super-Dry Overnights for a first-timer like this. They're the thickest, most absorbent diaper I carry, good for up to 12 hours, to get her accustomed to being changed on your schedule instead of going to the bathroom on hers." "Okay, okay, I'll take the pull-ups! Don't do this, Artis!" "Sounds fine, so what size?" Artis asks the clerk, completely ignoring you. "Fine?!" you shout. "I'm not wearing those fucking things!" This situation is deteriorating rapidly, and your mind reels trying to figure out how Artis suddenly turned into Miranda and what you can do to fix it. "Someone is about to get her little bottom tanned right here in the store," Artis says, glaring down at you. The salesman laughs. "By weight she's in the size three range, but these are sized for Amazon babies. They tend to run rather big on Littles, though, because of their slighter but more muscular frames. A size two would probably fit her nicely on her waist, though you could go with the bigger size if you wanted. It would ride up nearly to her chest and be much thicker between her legs, which would keep her more aware of it all the time." "Well, that is a conundrum, isn't it?" Artis says thoughtfully. "Any chance you've got a restroom where we can try them on?" "Artis, Please!" you complain, still wrestling against his iron grip. "You're right, Rosie, it's much easier to just do it right here." "NO!" you shriek. Artis squats to your eye level and pulls you in toward him. "If you yell at me one more time, I'm going to take those ridiculous pants off you right here and now, spank your little tush until it's good and red, and then put your diaper on in the middle of this aisle. Is that what you want?" he says in a low, intimidating voice. "No," you reply, much quieter, though no less panicked. He stands up. "So, restroom?" 9 "Absolutely!" the salesman says. "Right in the back. One of each, then?" "No, just a size two," Artis replies. "Artis!" you plead. "Maybe Rosie wants the size three instead?" he asks, eyeing you fiercely. "No!" "Then size two it is," he reaffirms. "Excellent choice, Sir," the clerk says, reaching for a bag and ripping it open. One side of the package shows a sleeping Amazon baby, thumb in his mouth, with a simple blue T-shirt reaching to his waist, below which the puffy white diaper dotted with cartoon animals is displayed prominantly, followed by his chubby bare legs. The other side, to your chagrin, shows a Little in an identical pose, though she's dressed in a ruffly white top, and her legs are obviously much more slender. Sick bastards, outright marketing these things to the psychos that kidnap and abuse Littles. You have little time to dwell on the thought, as Artis takes the diaper the clerk offers and walks you toward the back of the store and into the restroom, first unfolding the wall-mount changing station, then quickly reaching for the clasp on the front of your trousers. "I can do it myself!" you complain, reaching down to grab your waistband. "I can't believe you're doing this to me!" He swats your hands away. "Keep those hands out of there," he growls, unceremoniously jerking the slacks down along with your lacy black panties, then hoisting you up onto the table. Bewildered, you let out a squeak as he straps you down, tosses the pants and panties onto the floor, and pulls your ankles into the air, flopping the noisy garment out underneath you. "I thought you were on my side!" you whine, tears of humiliation threatening to fill your eyes once more. To your horror, it's at this point you notice that your entire crotch area is devoid of hair, smooth as it was when you actually WERE a little girl. What'd they do to you back there, laser it off?! "What did I tell you in the truck?" he says as he pulls the noisy plastic between your legs and up to your waist. "You said trust you! And now you go and do this!" you blubber back, incredulous at the entire situation, the tears beginning to stream down your cheek. He secures the tape on each side, sealing you into your bulky prison. "Are you going to cooperate, or would you rather have the bigger one?" "No!" "Good. You can put your pants back on now if you like." He plants you on your feet and motions toward the slacks lying on the floor. You quickly sit down with a loud rustle and pull the pants up your legs, but as you stand to pull them over your hips, it's fairly obvious there's no chance of them getting over the diaper. "I can't get them up!" you sniffle. "So you won't mind if I just take this stupid thing off, right?!" "Sure, if you want the size three instead," he says flatly. "You knew they wouldn't fit, didn't you?!" "I didn't figure they would, but you wouldn't believe it otherwise." No warning again, he snatches you around your middle with one arm and pulls the pants off with the other. God, he's strong! And fast too! He hoists you up and stands you on the counter next to the sink, pointing you straight toward the mirror. "Now, take a good long look at what you see there, and remember it. Remember it when you want to yell curse words at me in front of strangers, and think about how utterly ridiculous you'll look when you do." Furious, you open your mouth to respond, but then you see it. Your anger doesn't translate to this face. You just look like an adorable little girl having an adorable little tantrum. The tear-streaked cheeks and the tiny little pout and... dear god, the diaper... The huge white mass poking out below your blouse, which looks completely silly on you now. No matter how you contort that face, it's just a ridiculously cute toddler girl looking like someone told her she had to eat her broccoli. It's positively devastating. With that, he plunks you back on the ground and grabs your hand, marching you back out of the bathroom with your slacks in his other hand. You can't help but stumble both from the pace he's setting and the slightly bowl-legged stance your new, yet familiar underwear imparts. Half running, half staggering, rustling loudly the whole way, you make your way back to the diaper aisle, where the salesman stands there grinning like an idiot. "I think it fits pretty well," Artis announces. "Lift your shirt up and show him how it fits." You start to complain, but instead just give him a scowl as you pick the hem of your blouse up. "Turn around, please," the clerk instructs, and you comply. "Again, please." You turn again, your eyes shooting daggers as you face him. He doesn't acknowledge, though, instead reaching in to tug at the leg elastics, then the waistline. "It definitely won't leak. I still think the three would be better between the legs. A pronounced waddle is quite an effective behavioral modification for particularly defiant Littles, especially the girls." "What do you think, Rosie?" Artis says. "Do you like your new diapers, or should we try on the bigger ones?" "No," you nearly whisper. "I'm sorry, do you like this diaper, or do you want to try the other one?" he repeats. "This one," you reply, slightly louder. "Please answer the question," he insists. "Or I'll just take his recommendation." "I like this diaper," you growl. "Whose diaper is that?" he presses. You can't believe he's going this far with it. "I like my diaper!" you snap, then blush even deeper as you realize you've basically just announced it to the whole damned store. "I'm glad you're happy with it," he says. "We'll take a bag of the size twos." "Excellent choice, Sir," the salesman says, grinning evilly at you and leading the two of you toward the checkout counter. He slips behind the counter, scanning the package and announcing the price. Artis flashes his black chip-card in front of the scanner and a receipt shoots out of the printer next to it. "Thank you very much, Sir, and good luck training your new daughter!" "Say thank you to the nice man for helping us," Artis says sweetly, grabbing the package and staring at you expectantly. "Thank you, sir..." you pause for a moment. Artis' glare doesn't wane. You swallow and continue, "...for helping us..." He's still staring. "...pick out... my new diapers..." "See, we can be polite when we want to, can't we?" Artis beams. "Thank you again for all your help, sir. Come along, then, baby." He grabs your hand once more and off you waddle out the front door. Back in the booster seat, the ominous package sitting on the floor at your feet, you snarl, "What the fuck was that?!" "That," Artis says, "was the beginning of your retraining process." "So you're gonna try and make me back into a fucking baby?!" "I don't think you quite understand what has to happen next month," he says. "You killed your caretaker. The only way to convince the judge that you are no longer a danger to society is to demonstrate to him that you can control your emotions in the same exact circumstances." "But why?!" Your mind reels at his revelation and the implications of "same circumstances". "The best case scenario here is that the judge is going to grant me permanent guardianship over you. Now as I told you, I'm sympathetic to your situation, but the judge doesn't give a damn about any of that. He wants to see that you're not going to get violent in response to this kind of treatment!" "You could've warned me!" The weight of the situation is crushing you now, stealing your resolve. "They're not going to give you an itinerary at the Observation, Pau... Rosie. I'm going to bring you in, put you in a room, leave, and they're going to send people in there to do whatever they decide to do. And trust me, I've watched my fair share of awful treatment in Observations before." Your blood runs cold at the picture he paints. "Now, unlike other people who have attempted to train Littles for Observation, I've presided over plenty of these fiascos, so I pretty much have an idea of the range of abuse they're going to subject you to. In addition, as a doctor I have access to medications and other treatments that will help you along, make it a lot easier for you to handle what you're going to endure. This month is not going to be pleasant for you, but I'm going to do my best to make you comfortable as we go through the process. But you have to trust me, even when what I'm doing doesn't make any sense at the time, even when it seems cruel." "I'm sorry," is all you can come up with. You stare at the bag at your feet silently the rest of the ride, struggling in vain to close your legs, the thick, noisy bulk between them sneering at you, teasing you every time you move, reminding you of the horrible sight in that bathroom mirror... 9 The truck pulls into the driveway of a rather sad-looking old house, much smaller than the sprawling ranch where you spent most of the day. Artis lets you out of the booster and helps you to the ground, and you find yourself looking in every direction, terrified of someone seeing you in your current state of dress, even though deep inside you know such anxiety is not only pointless, but eventually will be fulfilled, unless Artis somehow has designs on leaving you here alone whenever he has to go out for provisions or whatever else. Regardless, you still breathe a sigh of relief once he leads you through the front door and into a sparsely furnished living room, where he sets you up on a plush couch and hands you the remote to what you presume is the television in the corner. "Maybe this'll help get your mind off it for a while," he offers. "I'm going to go see if there's anything useful in the pantry for dinner." You turn the TV on and begin, with some difficulty managing the huge remote with both hands, to flip through the channels, when an image stops you cold. It's a picture of you; the one they took at the police department after they arrested you. It's horrible; Miranda's blood still spattered on your face and neck, matting down parts of your hair. The news reporter is jabbering about some kind of protesting going on and Parliament debating over new laws. They cut to a photo of her, a little younger than the day you had the misfortune of meeting her, smiling and happy. That smile is one you'll never forget; it's the smile she wore most of that afternoon as she imposed her will on you the first time... A belt strapped across your chest, pinning you down on the vinyl-covered table, you squirm and kick, squealing behind the enormous nipple still lodged in your mouth, as she reaches under and pulls out a huge square of white plastic decorated with cheery little cartoon animals. Your eyes dart around the room in a panic; this is a nursery, there is no doubt of it, but the furniture is enormous. The crib in the corner is at least as tall as her shoulder height, though the mattress sits only just above her knees as best as you can tell. If she put you in there, those bars would certainly rise above your head, far too tall to climb out. The furniture and walls are all various shades of pastel pinks and whites, perfectly color-coordinated for a little girl's room. A little girl about your size, no doubt. The crazy woman hums a merry little tune as she sets out a bottle of lotion and a can of powder. You want to grab them, swat them away, anything to delay the inevitable, but your arms are secured by the strap; you can barely bend your elbows from this position. She turns to the closet and brings out a garish pink-and-white dress, all ruffly and lacy and looking like something made for a newborn, hanging it up on a hook next to the table. She grabs at one of your legs, but you kick it loose, and she frowns down at you. "Lie still now, baby. Mummy needs to get clothes on you," she scolds softly. She grabs the leg again, more firmly, and you keep squirming, but this time her grip is stronger. You kick at her with your free leg, and she slaps you across the thigh sharply. "Naughty baby!" she says, shaking her finger in your face. "You don't kick Mummy!" "MMMMM!" you scream at her and kick her arm again as hard as you can. Her face darkens, and you can see her grit her teeth, but then she takes a breath, lets go of your free leg, and says, "Then you can just lay there and kick until you decide you're ready to get dressed." She turns and leaves the room, leaving you there to thrash away. It doesn't take long to realize that you're not getting off this table until she accomplishes her aims, no matter how much you fight, so you decide to lie still and save your energy for a better opportunity. A few minutes later she comes back and says, "Baby ready to get dressed?" You glower at her silently, but offer no resistance as she rubs your whole bottom half down with the sweet-smelling lotion, nearly choking you with its pungent odor. She picks your legs up by the ankles, covering your bottom with a cloud of the equally potent powder, then flaps the disposable diaper out in the air and slides it under you, laying you back down onto it with a rustle. "My goodness, Mummy didn't realize you were going to be such a tiny thing when she bought your diapers! Maybe the nice man at the store will let us exchange some of them for something that fits you a little better." She coats your front with powder as well, drawing the diaper up between your legs. You're horrified as her little comment comes into focus; the top of the diaper rides up over your rib cage and just short of your breasts! She puts a firm hand in the middle of your chest while releasing the strap with the other. "Arms up, please," she says. Clearly, she can't tape the diaper up with your arms pinned to your side. An opportunity to resist! You lie there motionless, staring at her with as much hate as you can muster. You may not be in a position to fight her right now, but you damned sure aren't going to HELP her do this to you. "You're a little spark plug, aren't you?" she says, looking around the table with a puzzled face. Suddenly she smiles and grabs the strap with her free hand, forcing it up under your armpit, then tucking it back through the other, despite your best efforts to keep your arms locked in place, then secures it again. Now the position of the strap actually makes it painful to keep your arms at your sides, digging into your armpits on the edge, and you reluctantly relax them, allowing them to splay out to the sides. She smiles and proceeds with pulling the tapes snug across your stomach, crossing them nearly over one another to get the fit tight. The bulk between your legs is incredible; you can't do much of anything but splay them out wide. She turns to grab the dress, and in defiance you reach down and rip one of the tapes loose, and to your glee it tears some of the plastic away with it, clearly ruining the diaper. She turns around with a fierce glare. "I can see this is going to be quite a challenge," she says, no small amount of annoyance in her voice. She grabs your hand and swats it fiercely, causing you to squeak at the sharp pain. "NO!" she booms. "NAUGHTY!" You can't help but flinch at her powerful voice. She rips the other tape off, tossing the diaper into the pail next to her and grabbing another one from under the table. "If Baby takes her diaper off again, Mummy will spank her bottom but good and put it back on her. Understand?" she says, returning to the syrupy tone she's maintained through most of your interactions. "MMMMM!" you screech at her in defiance. She ignores you and repeats the process, but you're not going down without a fight. Kicking and squirming as she tries to draw the diaper up, you can see that she's becoming more and more agitated. After several hard swats on your legs, she manages to get it into position, and now you're darting your arms in and out, pushing the plastic down and pulling it away. She grabs one and swats it three times in rapid succession, yelling, "NO, NO, NO!" The sting actually brings tears to your eyes, and you pull it away, still furious, still defiant, but at this point content that her victory, though hard-earned, is temporary. She finally cinches the second diaper up even tighter than the first, the leg elastics now biting ever so slightly into your thighs. She grabs the ridiculous little pullover dress and sticks your arms in one by one before loosing the strap across your chest, then sits you up and pulls it the rest of the way down. "Now is that so bad, that you had to be such a naughty baby your first day with Mummy?" she asks. You glare straight into her eyes and respond with a growl. "I know the problem," she says. "You're just overtired after a long hard day, aren't you?" She hoists you up under your arms and plunks you into the crib. "Time for baby to have a nice nap," she says. You jump back to your feet and screech at her through the bars, but she walks away. "Go to sleep now, Baby. Mummy be back soon!" She flips the light off and closes the door, leaving you in the dim light peeking through the shade on the window. You immediately set about trying to wrestle the huge bulb out of your mouth, pulling this way and that on the ring, fumbling around for buttons, twisting and turning it, but all that gets you are sore lips from all the tugging. Frustrated but undaunted, your attention turns to your waist. RIP! RIP! You tear the tapes loose from the diaper and throw it over the top of the crib bars. Immediately you hear her footfalls approaching the room and she bursts in. "Mummy didn't want to spank the baby on her first day here," she says, a black look on her face, "but Baby didn't give her any choice!" You stumble backward in the crib, trying to evade her grasp, but she gets hold of you anyway, hoisting you out, then sitting down in the rocking chair beside it, draping your squirming form over her lap face down. She holds you fast with an arm wrapped around your middle, then her hand comes crashing down on your backside. The pain is incredible, stinging fire on your bottom and jolts shooting all the way up your back and down your legs, and you scream in protest, but she's undeterred. Over and over again that hand comes down with terrific force as you wail and sob and plead incoherently behind the pacifier gag... "Pauletta! Pauletta!" The memory dissipates, and Artis' face fills your vision. Confused, terrified, you mouth words, but no sounds comes out. You can feel yourself trembling in his grasp as he hoists you up and embraces you. "It's okay now, I promise. It's all going to be okay," he says over and over again, rocking you in his arms as you struggle to regain your grasp on reality. The pieces begin to fall back together as Miranda's horrible face fades back into the recesses of your memory, but doubt has come to the surface, doubt as to whether you're even going to be able to hang on to your sanity between now and the coming day of dread. 10 Artis sits down, settling you in his lap, and quietly rubs your back for a long time before he speaks again. "I'm sorry about the flashbacks, Pauletta. And I'm sorry that the training process is triggering them. I wish there were some other way to do this, but..." "I get it," you offer without much conviction. "I have to be a good little baby for them, like I should have been for her. Or else they'll kill me, like I killed her." "That's... about the size of it." "Artis?" you ask, grabbing on to a random thought just to get away from the current topic. "Yeah?" "You mentioned being part of a camel or something – what were you talking about?" "Tell you what, let's go eat dinner and I'll explain." "Sure." He carries you into the kitchen, where he's stacked a few books on one chair. "I don't have a booster here, sorry, but we'll see about getting one soon," he says, setlling you onto the stack with a rustle. "Of course, eventually we have to get you used to a highchair; they're GOING to have you in one at the Observation, guaranteed." He puts a plate of food in front of you along with a normal-looking juice glass full of water. "Might as well skip the stupid booster then," you say glumly. "I hate those things." Day after day in court, struggling to look dignified in a big plastic booster; no, you're sure a highchair wouldn't be any worse. Either way, you'd prefer not to think about it anymore, so you decide to change the subject. "So, about this camel stuff?" you ask, digging into the casserole-looking thing Artis put together. "Ah yes, CAMOL. Citizens Against the Mistreatment of Littles. It's a small but rapidly growing group of activists trying to get laws changed to offer some protection for Littles in Amazon society. So far, all we've accomplished is giving ourselves national visibility by staging rallies when situations like yours come up, although yours is definitely new territory." "What, I'm the only Little to ever fight back against her owner or whatever you call it?" "You're just the first one to actually kill her adoptive parent. But how the legal system handled you has sparked a lot of conversation in high places, and we're definitely making inroads in Parliament as a result." "Oh great, so I get to be the martyr everyone rallies around. Just what I always dreamed of doing with my life." "No, I stepped in and volunteered to handle your rehab to prevent exactly that from happening. There were certain high-ranking CAMOL officials that were hoping to engage in a protracted legal battle over a death sentence, but they've backed off trying to appeal because of the negative publicity it would bring at this stage of the game, since the judge gave you what is considered by the vast majority of the public to be a very generous reprieve." "You'll have to pardon me if I don't seem exceptionally grateful, seriously," you huff, squirming a bit atop the pile of books and the very unwelcome padding. "No, I understand, believe me. I'm pretty well familiar with what Miranda did to you, and the best I can offer is that I have no intention of repeating same. Hitting people with sticks and spoons and belts and the like, no matter how big or small those people are, is just wrong. The sudden shocks, well, they're a part of the process, one we can't avoid, but between them I aim to make you as comfortable as possible." It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and no matter what side conversation you try to spark up, you have the feeling it will all eventually come back around to it. You decide, at least for now, to just stop talking and eat. Artis seems content to do likewise, and the rest of dinner is relatively quiet. You do notice him constantly refilling your glass throughout the meal, and it's not hard to figure out the motivation behind it. Every time you try to adjust on your little hardbound perch you're reminded of it. Get comfortable. Get comfortable with pissing on yourself again, with wearing your toilet around your waist, with giving up one of the first pieces of independence a child gains in her life. Sure enough, you haven't finished your plate before you hit that crossroad. Much to your shock, however, fighting it is nigh impossible. At the very first urge, the flow begins, and you gasp in surprise at it, feeling yourself blush in response. "Wet?" he asks softly. You nod. "I... That was..." Confusion reigns; how could you possibly have lost control so fast?! "Too easy?" he follows through. "You may have re-trained yourself while in jail, but it hasn't been that long since you taught your body that voiding in a diaper was acceptable. This is a good thing, really, because it means we just have to get you over the psychological aspect of the problem, the embarrassment over what you perceive as self-degradation." Anger rises up in you as the stream becomes a dribble, then stops. "Easy for you to say," you offer bitterly. "You're not the one sitting in your own piss over here!" Fact is, you don't feel wet right now; the padding definitely wicked it away, but the residual warmth is a very present reminder of your shame and disgust over what just happened. "I know, I know, but you have to keep reminding yourself that this is not your fault. You don't have a choice in the matter. This is something you have to do to survive right now. Go ahead and finish your dinner, and I'll change you afterward." "Yeah, I kinda lost my appetite, to be honest." All you want now is to be out of this thing as fast as possible. Of course, another one just like it awaits you, but... "I'd rather you finish eating; it's the first meal you've had today." "Please?" "Alright, alright. You've had enough shocks to your system today, we can take it easy." He stands, hoists you up off the seat, and carries you into the living room, lying you down on the carpet near where he left the bag of diapers. "Sit tight, I need to grab some supplies," he says, disappearing quickly down the hall, then resurfacing with a handful of items that he lays out next to you as he kneels. You recognize immediately the wipes and baby powder, but the last box takes you by surprise. "Why the gloves?" you ask as he dons them casually then hoists your ankles into the air. "Oh, I have a hell of a time with psoriasis on my hands, so having to wash my hands after every time I do this is just not an option," he says, not even looking up from his task. "I'm sorry if it feels weird." "Right, because being twenty years old and being wiped and powdered and diapered like an infant doesn't feel weird at all," you huff. "Rosie..." he says, raising an eyebrow at you. "Yeah, yeah, I have to get used to it. Doesn't mean I have to like it." Apparently he decided not to engage you any further, because he quickly wipes you down, powders you back and front, and tapes you back up. "Thanks," you mutter quietly. If you have to wear these miserable things, a clean and dry one is damned sure better than a wet one. "You're welcome," he answers, scooping you up and carrying you over to the couch. "I'm thinking the news isn't the best choice for viewing material right now. How about we just relax and watch a movie?" "Sure, whatever." It's been so long since you watched television, and even longer since you watched something that wasn't what seemed to be propaganda against Littles, it's hard to care. You watch in dismay as Miranda produces a jumper seat, which she quickly sets up in the corner next to the couch, ratcheting it up to its tallest height. Quick as a wink, she has you under your arms and plunking you into the seat. "Now you just keep Mister Binky in your little mouth and be a good girl while we wait for the movers to get here!" Your predicament is worse than you thought now; miraculously your toes do just brush the carpet, but the seat sinks so low your arms are forced nearly parallel across your shoulders, all but eliminating anything in the way of mobility. Even if you wanted to, you couldn't play with the stupid colored beads on the wire or the little spinner attached to the table. Thankfully you're actually skinny enough to pull your arms in with you into the seat, which is marginally more comfortable, and you stare at your hands and suckle your pacifier, doing your best to stay calm and ignore Miranda as she flits back and forth between the front window and the kitchen. "Comfy?" she asks as she returns with a paper plate full of saltine cracker "sandwiches" filled with peanut butter and a sippy cup full of what you're guessing is juice. "Eat up, or there'll be another spanking in your immediate future," she warns. "Go to hell!" you snap back. "I'm sorry, were you addressing me?" she says expectantly. "Fine! Go to hell... Mommy!" you growl. "So adorable when you try to be all grown-up. Here, Mommy turn the TV on for you while we wait." She points the remote at the huge panel on the wall and, after a quick run through the guide, settles on a children's show. With a frustrated sigh, you hoist your elbows up onto the table in front of you and drop your head between them, staring at the colorful puppets bouncing around on the screen. This particular show ends and a new one starts, one featuring a number of young Amazon children and a big, hairy, pink monster of some sort, all of which are sickeningly joyful to be there, dancing about to goofy kid songs. As the show moves along, though, something strange happens. An older kid arrives on the set with a Little in tow, in full baby regalia including a pacifier, her big poofy diaper obvious under the hem of her dress. Simultaneously horrified and transfixed, you lock in on the dialogue. "This is my adopted little sister, Cammy!" the Amazon girl shouts joyfully. The Little blushes and offers a tiny wave at the group. "It's her birthday today, and she's turning TWENTY-NINE!" the girl boasts. This announcement is mostly received rather well from the other children, with a few notable exceptions, including one boy busy playing in the sandbox. Almost predictably, after the staged excitement over the Little, her Amazon escort heads straight over and deposits her in the sandbox next to him. "Cammy play in the sand too?" she coos at the Little, who doesn't look any happier to be there, but gamely picks up a plastic shovel and begins digging. "Aw, Clarice! I don't wanna play with some dumb baby Little!" he pouts. "That's not nice!" the newly identified Clarice says, hands on her hips. "I'm five and I don't have to wear diapers! She must be really dumb or something to be that old and still a baby!" Thankfully, the goofy pink host steps in. "Tommy," she says, sitting down in the sandbox and pulling the blushing Little onto her lap. "It's not nice to make fun of Littles!" "But she's older than my big brother!" Tommy says, "and she's still a baby!" "Would you like it if you had a baby sister and someone made fun of her?" Clarice asks. "Well no." "That's right, Clarice!" the pink thing adds, before turning back to Tommy. "You used to be a baby, but then you grew up! It's not Cammy's fault that she's already grown as much as she can. She needs big kids like you to be nice and look out for her, because she can't take care of herself!" "But I've seen some Littles with grown-up clothes and grown-up jobs in the city," another boy says thoughtfully. "That's because they don't have anyone to take care of them like lucky little Cammy here. They have to work so very hard to pretend to be grown-up because they have to take care of themselves, even though they don't really know how. Some of them end up getting hurt, really bad, because they don't have a grown-up to give them the help they need." "That's so sad," a girl pipes up. "I wish my mommy would adopt a Little." "Me too!" agrees another. Tommy walks over and hugs Cammy, then says, "I'm sorry for being mean to you, Cammy." He lookes at Clarice and says, "Can I go push her on the swings? I bet she'd like that!" The crowd moves over to the playset, and the bewildered Cammy is deposited on a swing. Music cues, and the pink fuzzy host begins singing a ridiculous song about being nice to Littles because they're just like babies, but they don't ever grow up. "They're here!" Miranda says, breaking your concentration on the insanity in front of you. She's entirely too happy about this, from your perspective. As she dashes for the door, you sink deeper into the jumper seat, wishing for all the world that you could just disappear under the table and have the two burly Amazons Miranda reveals at the door not notice you... 11 No surprise to anyone involved, you wind up giving Artis another wet diaper before the evening is over, and it happens just as easily as it did the first time. Unfortunately for you, he lets you sit in it for a good hour, adding a few extra little spurts to it, before he decides it's time for bed, which is immediately predicated by a rather embarrassing bath. The bigger surprise, though, is when he carries you, coccooned in a huge towel, into what you assume is going to be "your" bedroom. You were certain a full-blown nursery would be waiting behind that door, but instead there sits a simple bed, though sized for a giant, against one wall with a lift-up rail on the room side along with some rather plain-looking furniture you might expect to find in a guest bedroom. There's a night table with a simple lamp, a bureau, and a vanity, all in a lightly-stained wood tone. "Wait... where... I mean... what happened to..." you stammer, confused, but certainly not wanting to invite him to change the decor. "I figured you'd appreciate having a normal bed, at least for a while, as you get used to the situation," he answers with a gentle smile. He lays you on the bed, unravels the towel, puts his gloves back on, and proceeds to rub down your legs and arms with an incredibly sweet-smelling lotion, but not so pungent as to overwhlem your nose. You can't help but enjoy the relaxation you're experiencing right now as you melt under his soft touch. In fact, you're in such a state of bliss, you scarcely notice as he powders between your legs and pulls that thick diaper up, snugly taping it off as you lay there like a puddle. "Sorry I don't have any pajamas for you. We'll take care of that soon enough, okay?" he says softly, slipping the towel out from under you and covering you with the soft sheet and a very cozy comforter. "Mmhmm," you offer, eyes half-closed, already nodding off to sleep. "I sleep in my underwear most of the time anyway." He lets loose a little chuckle and says, "Well we can't have that long-term. Goodnight, Rosie. See you in the morning." You're barely aware as he lifts the bed rail and locks it into place with a metallic click. Unfortunately for you, it's not morning when you wake up. It's not even close. The alarm clock on the stand next to your bed taunts you with the time; just after four AM. You have to pee, badly. You could get out of bed if you crawled all the way to the foot and carefully climbed down, and you could probably find the bathroom again, and you could take this infernal diaper off, and you might even could get lucky and not kill yourself trying to crawl up onto the giant-sized toilet. Oh, and do all of it in complete darkness. But there's no way you're going to be able to do all that before you piss all over yourself. Or avoid waking him up in the process. You're trapped, and you know it, and now you're going to have to wet yourself, and then you're going to have to try to go back to sleep afterward. It doesn't take long, lying on your back and fixated, for physical need to overcome willpower and pride. Once again the pillow between your legs is warm and swollen, only now there are hours between you and a change. Rolling over on your side doesn't help; the extra bulk presses against your thighs and makes the position thoroughly uncomfortable. Lying on your stomach isn't much of an improvement, more like a hard pillow pressing against your pelvis. No, flat on your back with your legs splayed out is the least miserable of your options at this point, and that's exactly where you wind up, staring into the darkness above you, feeling disgusted. Five o'clock rolls around, and finally you've had enough. To hell with Artis, you're not laying in a puddle of your own piss until whenever he decides to get up. You cover up with the huge comforter to quiet the noise and pull the tapes loose very gently. They still make a terrific racket, but the blanket is definitely helping. You lift your hips and pull the thing out from underneath you, kicking it down to the bottom of the bed, flopping the blanket over it, and enjoying the cool night air on your nether regions. Naked never felt so good as this, and you revel in it for a good long while before curling up on your side, pulling the sheet over your shoulder, and drifting back to sleep. In fact, you sleep so soundly that you barely even feel Artis pull the sheet down. "Well, at least I know why Miranda lost her temper so much," he says, shuffling the blankets around as you begin to stir, then suddenly snap awake. "Oh, good morning," he says flatly as he locates what he was looking for: the wet diaper at the bottom of the bed. He holds it up and says, "Any particular reason why this came off?" "It was four in the morning, Artis! What was I supposed to do, lay around in a wet diaper until..." you look at the clock on your bedside: Seven AM. "Okay, still, three hours in a wet diaper? How was I supposed to go back to sleep?" He frowns, then shrugs. "I'll give you this one. But going forward, your job is to do what you have to do to get used to it, and my job is to help you along, whether you like the help I give you or not. Are we clear?" "Yes, we're clear," you grumble. Meanwhile, Artis applies powder a bit quicker, a bit more gruffly than last night, and seals you back up into a clean diaper, then sits you up and hands you your bra and blouse. As soon as you're finished dressing, he says, "Alright then, young lady. Get dressed and let's get breakfast; we've got a busy day ahead of us." "What busy day?" you ask, following him into the kitchen and watching him pour two bowls of cereal. "We need to go clothes shopping today." "Wait a minute," you protest as he hoists you up onto the pile of books on your chair. "You said we were going to ease into this!" He plunks a bowl and spoon in front of you and says, "You wore that shirt all day yesterday and you're going to be wearing it again this morning. I'm not having you wear it three or four days in a row, and you have no other clothes to wear." "I'm not ready to go out in public like this!" you whine, panic welling up inside you. "Can't you just measure me or something?!" "Remember what I said yesterday, Rosie. Argue, fuss, whine, whatever you want out in public, but when we're alone, respect my judgment, because I'm doing what needs to get done." "But... The pharmacy was bad enough, now you want to cart me around a clothing store in this stupid getup?!" you protest. "Do I need to remind you of the alternative here?!" he replies, his volume level rising right along with yours. "You just want to humiliate me again like yesterday!" you shout, the panic boiling over into anger. "You're enjoying this, you fucking sicko!" He rises, leaning right in until he's mere inches from your face, taking on a low, menacing tone. "I'm going to put this real simple, Rosalita. The fact that you are here at all is a testament to my kindness; otherwise you'd be strapped to a guerney right now about to get a needle full of poison in your arm. I'm trying to be kind and gentle to you, because you've been through a lot, and you're gonna have to go through a lot more if you want to make it out of that courtroom alive in a few weeks. "But you'd better hear me right now, and hear me well, kiddo. You keep talking like that to me, and I promise you, kind and gentle goes right out the window, and so does easing in. And if that's not enough to smarten your sassy ass up, hey, it's your funeral, you know? I don't put up with my own FAMILY speaking to me in that fashion, I'm damned sure not going to put up with it from someone I barely KNOW! Are we clear?" "We're clear," you nearly whisper. What the hell else are you going to say to that, especially when he's that much into your personal space, looking for all the world like a spawn of hell with the stormclouds on his face? "I'm glad we have an understanding. Now finish your cereal quietly while I go calm down." Before you can respond, he storms down the hall, slamming a door behind him. Your head is spinning now; you can scarcely believe that you've managed to already piss him off enough to start making threats. Still, better to do as your told, at least, so you grab your spoon and commence eating while you try to sort out this bizarre Jeckyl-and-Hyde presentation over the last day. You finish, but he's still in the bedroom. Rather than risk more anger, though, you decide to just sit there and wait, as much as you'd like to get away from that pile of books. You're almost looking forward to a highchair, as uncomfortable as this seating arrangement is. Finally he surfaces again, his face having returned to the calm gentleness you've seen most of the time you've been around him. "I wanted to wait on this, but between your flashback last night and the difficulty you've been having with both panic attacks and angry outbursts, I feel like it's better we start on it right away." "Start on wha...?" you start to ask, but are cut off by his hand suddenly covering your mouth and something very, very familiar protruding from it. He's holding it there, and it feels suspiciously like a nipple. "Suck," he instructs. You try to spit it out and twist away, but he's much stronger than you and holds it fast. "I said suck," he repeats. He's obviously not backing down on this, so you take the nipple and begin to slowly nurse at it. He moves his hand away once he's satisfied that you're not going to spit it out and says, "Trust me, you'll feel better in a few minutes." At first you just glower at him, humiliation burning in your cheeks. He stands there silently, watching as you continue to suckle on the infantile accessory. "What's in that nipple is a fast-acting anti-anxiety medication," he finally says as he attaches a ribbon to it and clips it to your blouse. "It's a tightly controlled dosage system, but nonetheless you should take it out once you start to feel the effect. Trust me, you'll know when it happens." "You couldn' jush gi' me a fill?" you grumble, still incredulous at this new development but loathe to cross him again this soon. "First of all," he says, hoisting you up onto his hip, "one of the things you need to be ready for come Observation is nursing on a nipple. Second, how do you think it'd look if I was handing you pills every time you turned around while we were out in public? And finally, when you're in that Observation room, I'm not going to be there to give you a pill anyway. This way, when you need to calm yourself down, you have what you need right there, and it's in a form that will slip under the radar when you're gonna need it most. Make sense now?" "Yesh," you mumble halfheartedly. It's strange, this wave of calm washing over you, stifling you instincts toward the indignation you know you should be feeling right now. "Yes what?" he asks expectantly as he walks toward the door. "Yesh i' make shensh?" He stops still. "I told you last night, you have a new name, and I have a new name. What is my new name?" "Oh come on," you whine. "You need to get used to it, Rosalita," he scolds, adding emphasis to the false name he's given you. "I'm willing to be patient if you're willing to try. Otherwise, I'll just have to start ignoring you when you don't include 'Daddy' when you address me. Is that what you want?" "No... Daddy." You want to rebel, but for some strange reason it just doesn't matter enough to bother. "Better. Ready to get some new clothes now?" "Yesh... Daddy." No, not really. But... you're actually starting to feel a little sleepy, and you definitely aren't giving a shit about any of this anymore. "Then let's go," he says. "But first, let's take a break from this." He pops the pacifier out of your mouth with a grin. "You definitely missed the cues that it was kicking in, but I'm betting you'll remember them next time you need it." He carries you to the car and buckles you in before settling into the driver's seat. He gives you a quick glance in the rearview mirror, then puts it into gear and takes off. Houses and trees whip by, and whatever dread you had over your impending humiliation dissipates into the blur of the scenery flying by. You've no idea how much time has passed when you arrive at what you presume is the intended destination, a strip mall on a much busier street than the one you started out on, with one very large store on the end. "Couture Le Bebe" the sign announces, and Artis heads directly towards it when he enters the parking lot. You may not know any French, but it's not hard to figure out what "Bebe" means, and even in the comfortable little fog that surrounds you presently, you still aren't all that happy about the implications. "Here we are!" he declares, cutting off your train of thought as he opens your door. As he carries you toward the entrance, you pass several sets of giant and Little, some with store employees in tow with packages, the Littles rarely looking particularly happy. Some are walking alongside their "parents", but one hapless thing is on his "mother's" chest in a harness while she carries bags in both hands, his arms and legs flopping in rhythm with her steps, and his face blushing beet red at his predicament. A few comments come your direction, mostly right in line with that jerk at the pharmacy, offering approval for Artis' obvious "decision" to put you in your "proper place", no doubt a side effect of you still having the very adult-looking blouse on along with what you're stuck wearing below the waist. Maybe a new wardrobe will actually be an improvement, considering how much extra, unwanted, derisive attention you're getting right now. Most disturbing, however, is the scene that unfolds as you near the building's entrance, where a car door opens and you hear the desperate howling of a male Little, screaming, "I'm sorry Mommy! Please! I'll be a good boy! I promise!" "You had six weeks to be a good boy!" the woman spits as she reaches into the car. "Now we'll see if you can be a good girl instead!" She produces a squirming, sobbing mess, naked save for his obviously wet and sagging diaper. "Keep making a spectacle of yourself, and while we're at the clinic making it permanent, we'll look into having your teeth out too!" she barks directly in his face. That quiets his wailing down, at least to whimpering and sniffling. You shudder as the two of you pass by. You're starting to wonder if this anti-anxiety drug wears off as fast as it takes effect, because you're really not feeling very calm anymore. Then again, who knows how long you were driving? You wonder if Artis would say something if you... No, you don't need that crap! "I'm sorry you had to see that," Artis says, loud enough to be audible. "So many of them just go too far, I swear." You don't even know how to respond to that one. Doesn't he already think kidnapping an adult and forcing him or her to be a baby is going too far? Isn't he supposed to be part of an advocacy group whose purpose is to stop this sort of thing? Your stress level rises even higher as you enter the building. It's not like you can fight him; he holds your life in his hands at this point. But your suspicion of his motives is even stronger now, especially when you realize he never actually denied your accusation in the earlier spat... 12 To your surprise, there are no checkout lanes when you enter. Instead, you're immediately greeted by an oddly short woman in a well-tailored blue blazer and matching pencil skirt, white blouse, and seven-inch heels, with a tailor's tape draped on her shoulders. Even with the heels, she barely reaches Artis' broad chest. Scanning the store, as much of it as you can see, you notice the other salespeople here are roughly equal in stature to this one, or at least they stand significantly shorter than the customers they're helping. Obviously a marketing tactic, but why? Are they trying to empower the customer to take command of their purchases? Or is it just a way of subtly reinforcing the idea of servitude from their sales staff? Either way, her opening doesn't endear her to you at all. "Oh my goodness, aren't we just adorable in our big grown-up looking blouse! Was it Daddy-daughter day at work today?" Artis, cool as a cucumber, manages to embarrass you even more. "Actually, Rosie here just joined our little family day before yesterday, and she thought she was a grown-up, but we figured out differently, didn't we?" Saving you the ignominy of a response, the Middle pipes right back up, "And let me guess, none of her big-girl clothes would fit over her new underwear, huh?" "Even if they did, she clearly doesn't belong in them, after our little show at the pharmacy." "Uh-oh, did we have a temper tantrum?" the lady coos, dropping her hands onto her thighs and leaning over to leer at you. A subtle urge to take a swipe at her rises, but you fight it off. "Indeed, I was just trying to pick up a potty chair and some pull-ups for her, just to keep her safe, you know, and she wasn't having any of it." "So now she doesn't have to, isn't that wonderful?" She rears back up and claps her hands. You're quite certain now you'd like to at least punch her in the face. "Of course, she was far less pleased with this arrangement. I'm thinking the prospect of graduating back to a potty chair will keep her motivated to behave better for the next few months." Artis continues to converse with the Middle as you continue searching for a hole in the floor to crawl into. Suddenly Artis deposits you on your feet, and quick as lightning the tape is off the saleslady's shoulders and around your waist, your thickly padded hips, your meager chest, up your back, and down your leg, making sure to give you a solid and rather loud pat on the bottom after she takes your inseam. She quickly scribbles notes, then announces, "Her legs are long enough for a two-tee, but she'll fit in our nine to 12-month sizes just fine on the chest. You may also want to consider leaving a bit of room for weight gain, though." "Ah, yes, getting her on a regular feeding schedule might change things in that department." "Of course, the poor things have to scratch and claw just to get a bite on their own, from what I hear," the lady offers sympathetically. "Isn't it wonderful having a Daddy to make sure your little tummy doesn't go hungry anymore?" she coos at you, reaching a finger out toward your chin. Reflexively, you slap it away. "Don't you dare touch me!" you snap. The lady recoils a bit, then stiffens up and says, "Well, I see we still have a big-girl mouth on us!" "Indeed we do," Artis says with more than a hint of malice in her voice. "I think someone needs Mister Binky right about now." He picks the pacifier up from where it dangles on your chest and offers it to you. "What, it's not bad enough I have to be your dress-up doll, now you want to let EVERYONE play with me?" you growl. "Oh my, she is a feisty one!" the saleslady says, feigning shock. "She's right on the verge of getting her first spanking, if she doesn't take her binky right now," Artis says, staring straight at you and bringing the nipple in close, right in front of your face. He told you to put up a fight in public, but suddenly you're wondering if the "show" includes following through on a threat like that. Reluctantly you accept the rubber nipple and suckle it a bit. "Good girl," Artis says. "Shall we get started? I'm thinking we split the difference and go 12 to 18 months. That should account for any baby fat, don't you think?" "Absolutely, though that size pants would be awfully short on her." "Proper little girls wear dresses, so their daddies can keep track of the state of their diapers." "Indeed," the saleslady says, smiling wickedly down at you. "Right this way." Much to your chagrin, the behemoth store is divided first by infants and toddlers, then by girls and boys, meaning. Whatever hope you had at even a scant few outfits that might have looked somewhat dignified dissipates as the saleslady grabs a rolling hanger rack and leads you away straight into a sea of ruffles and crinoline and soft pastels in the infant area. Just when whatever Artis put in that pacifier starts to work again, your intense suckling is interrupted when the saleslady removes your blouse, taking the attached ribbon and the pacifier with it, leaving you naked and blushing save for the... well, you may as well concede it's now your diaper, bra, and flats. Even worse, your bladder betrays you and you begin peeing, right there on the spot. "Isn't that adorable?" the saleslady gasps. "What great big pads we have in our little training bra, trying to look all grown-up while we're peeing in our little pants!" "I'm pretty sure I told you to leave that at home, little girl," Artis says sternly, popping the strap loose in the back and stripping it off, the pads the insipid Middle mentioned flopping to the floor in the process. "No matter, we won't be dressing ourselves anymore, will we?" he says. "Do we have a trashcan somewhere?" You're pretty sure, if it weren't for whatever that drug he's giving you was, that you'd be pitching a fit right now. Even with the vague calming sensation, all the cheap shots the saleslady is taking are starting to get to you, not to mention the state of your diaper and the fact that you're now standing there showing it off to anyone who cares to look. The saleslady says, "I'll take care of that," gathering the pads up, taking the bra from Artis, and tossing this last proof of your womanhood into a nearby wastebasket. If either of them noticed the condition of your diaper, neither one of them acknowledged it. "Artis!" you whisper harshly. "I'm sorry, what's my name?" he replies, that stern look back on his face. "I mean, Daddy!" you grump back. "Better. Did you need something?" "I..." The humiliation of what you have to ask takes the spit out of you, and you nearly mumble, "I need my diaper changed." He looks down at your middle, then back up. "You'll be fine until we're done, Rosie." With that, he turns you entirely over to the saleslady, who dives into the dresses with gusto, pulling one after the other over your head, to be celebrated by both of them and removed, after which they find their way onto the rack next to you. The fact that none of the hemlines even make it halfway down your thighs is not lost on you; they'll be little better than the damned blouse you were wearing at covering your underwear, especially. As you watch the outfits accumulate on that infernal rack, standing there alternately naked and dressed in idiotically babyish clothes, the fires of indignance are burning brightly inside of you. Artis' rebuff of your request for a change is gnawing at you, the warm density between your legs a perpetual reminder of it. Being treated like a dress-up doll is mere icing on that cake. Worse, you find yourself longing for the calm of that pacifier in your mouth, which angers you even more. The stoic face you've been struggling to maintain begins to devolve into a scowl, which elicits nothing but teasing from both the Middle and Artis. By the time you're dragged into sleepwear, you're practically trembling with rage as the snotty bitch makes suggestions and Artis accepts and dismisses them for various reasons. Then the Middle crosses the line. She raises up what looks for all the world like a pink flannel bag with mittened sleeves and a cutout for a head and suggests, "These are great for when they just won't stay in bed. I hear they're perfect for timeouts, too!" "Well that's certainly sensible, especially for little girls who won't keep their diapers on in bed," Artis says, staring down at you. You scowl back at him, gritting your teeth as your rage begins to boil over. "I think we'll take one," he says. Before you can stop yourself, you shout, "No goddamned way, Artis! I'm not wearing that fucking thing!" Silence. Not just in your group, but immediately nearby as well. You feel eyes on you from every direction, and your ears burn with the embarrassment of it, especially as you remember you're standing there naked in a slightly drooping, yellow-tinged diaper. The saleslady looks at Artis expectantly while you suddenly find the scuffs on the top of your flats very, very interesting. "Where are your restrooms?" Artis asks stiffly. You feel your knees getting rubbery as the Middle points toward the back of the store. Artis' head follows her finger and nods. "Thank you." Panic fills you as he turns toward you, a storm of barely-contained anger in his face. "I'm sorry?" you whimper just as he snatches you up by your middle, grabs the diaper bag, and storms off in the direction the saleslady pointed. "Sorry is in the rear view, little girl," he barks at well more than a speaking volume. "You're not nearly as sorry as you're about to be..." 13 "But I thought..." you start to beg, in absolute terror at what's about to happen. "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THOUGHT!" he shouts as the two of you enter a hallway and make a quick left into the men's room. You squirm helplessly while he pops open the changing station, straps you down to it snugly, then turns toward the sink. You try to crane your neck, but to no avail; the wall this table is attached to completely blocks your view. You hear the zip of the bag he carried with him, then some other rummaging sort of noises. Suddenly and swiftly, he turns back toward you, bearing down toward your head as you cower. One hand reaches behind your head, tilting it forward. The other contains a toothbrush coated in a substance bearing no resemblance to any toothpaste you've ever seen. He brings it toward your mouth and commands, "OPEN!" Almost reflexively, you close your lips tight and try to turn your head. His fingers dig into your jawline, causing a sharp pain to run across it from end to end, and you yelp, "OW... MMMPH!" as the toothbrush finds its way into your mouth and begins to vigorously scrub your teeth with... hand soap?! "I warned you about your foul mouth, little girl, and now we're going to clean it up the hard way!" he says stiffly as he works it around first your bottom teeth then the top. You recoil your tongue at the horrid taste of the stuff, helpless against his iron grip and the bounds of the strap across your chest, incoherently wailing in protest between gagging and coughing. After what seems an eternity he stands back, slapping the toothbrush down onto the sink with a sharp plastic crack. "You tol' me to pu' up a figh' in pub'ic!" you sob, desperately trying to keep your tongue away from your teeth as he looses the strap and turns you face down, allowing you to at least drool and spit out onto the floor. "And you just walked right over the line AGAIN. These people EXPECT me to treat you harshly!" "You coul' have col' me!" "Told you what?" he says, moving you over next to the sink, "that I expected you to fight me in public but that I also would have to punish you if you lost it? What would you have done?" "I woul' have wai'e' un'ew we were in da car." "And you would have pitched a fit there instead, right?" "Yesh..." you have to admit. "Which is exactly the opposite of the goal here. You need to learn how to control your temper in the moment, not just save it for later." "Sho I'm shupposh' 'o keep arguing wid you sho you can corchur me 'ike dish?!" "No, you're supposed to fuss, whine, and cry, but keep control of yourself. I've told you where the line is, and now I've shown you where the line is. It's your job to stay on the right side of the line, and it's my job to reinforce that line by whatever means necessary, because it's the difference between life and death for you! Got it?" "Yesh." "Yes what?" "Yesh I gah i'." "Who am I?" "Daddy." "Good. Now we can rinse your mouth out and go finish our shopping trip." "Wha' abou' my diaper?!" you ask incredulously as he fills a cup with water and hands it to you. You immediately begin rinsing the horrible soap taste out of your mouth as fast as possible. "I told you it didn't need changing. Did you think that little stunt out there was going to change my mind?" "No..." you mumble between spits. "So," he says, "we're going to go back and finish shopping. And you are going to apologize for being such a bad baby and yelling such dirty words to everyone I get close enough to talk to until we find our saleslady again..." "B...but..." you protest, horrified at the instruction. He continues, talking straight over you as he plunks you onto the floor. "and you will also apologize to her for being so disrespectful to her the entire time she's been helping us, understand?" Your legs begin to move almost of their own accord as he leads you out of the bathroom, and you find yourself sniffling through a defeated, "Yes Daddy." Almost immediately out the bathroom door you meet a giantess with two male Littles in a double stroller. The faint smell of a dirty diaper greets you as Artis says, "Oh hello!" as you drop your head once again. "Oh my, this must be the loud one we heard earlier!" the lady says curtly. "Why yes it is, and she has something to say to you, doesn't she?" Artis prompts. Not looking up, you mutter, "I'm sorry..." "Sorry for what? And speak up, please." "I'm sorry I was a..." the words hang on your lips, and you struggle to continue, "a... bad... baby... and I'm sorry I said all those bad words." The second half comes easier, but it doesn't stop fresh tears from rushing down your cheeks. "Well you should be glad to have a Daddy who cares enough to teach you how to be a good little girl," the lady responds stiffly. "Because you clearly have much to learn." "I... I am..." you mumble. "Anyway, it smells like you have some business to attend to," Artis says with a chuckle. "Say bye-bye to the nice lady," he prompts again. "Bye-bye." And so it goes, at least another four or five times before you finally make it back to the infants section and find your attendant. Of course, Artis makes you apologize to her as well while he retrieves the pacifier from where it dangles on your blouse. "I believe we were about to have a fitting for that lovely little sleeper," he announces. You let out a whine, but Artis pops the pacifier back into your mouth before you get a chance to speak. "Wonderful!" the Middle declares. "Now, the 12 to 18 will probaly be too short on her, but the two-tee should do just fine." "By all means, let's try the bigger one," Artis says, and before you know it, his hands are under your arms and you're being deposited into this fuzzy bag and seated on the floor, despite your whimpering. Your arms are shoved into the holes, and the saleslady slides the zipper up the back. "And it locks in place just like this!" she says as you hear a click at the back of your neck. "Now go ahead and stand up, sweetie," she coos. You ignore her, your mittened arms crossed, pouting behind your pacifier. "The nice lady asked you to stand up, baby," Artis says. "Or are you just so comfy you'd rather wear that the rest of the day?" That spurs you into action. You plant your feet and try to stand, but the bag isn't big enough for you to straighten your legs, and you lose your balance as it jerks you back down, dropping to all fours with a squeak. "Isn't it perfect?" the Middle says, clapping her hands. "Guaranteed to keep her in bed until Daddy decides it's time to get up!" "Indeed, it's perfect. We'll definitely take one." You start to complain, but you're still stuck in this thing, and you want out. "Excellent!" the Middle declares as she unzips you out of the horrible trap. "I think that should just about do it," Artis says, much to your relief. Just when you think the nightmare is finally over, though, the sales-bitch pipes up one more time. "Oh I notice you've got her in Comfeez Overnights. Are you fairly stocked up on those?" she asks. "Actually no, I just picked up the one bag last night," he replies. Great. More diapers. Except... "You know, those are made for normal babies, not Littles. Let me show you something." 14 So much for it being over. She leads the two of you into an aisle full of a huge array of diapers along with all the associated supplies; lotions, powder, wipes, the full monty. "We carry Comfeez, but only because we do have occasional clients with normal babies come here to shop." The emphasis on the word "normal" and the derisive tone she uses sends a surge of anger through you, but it quickly fades back behind the anxiety of what horrible thing she's about to reveal and whether Artis is going to be game for it. Even with the fog closing in, this is nothing short of horrifying. "About two years ago, a company called 'Forever Baby' launched a line of products specifically for parents of Littles, with lots of features especially for babies who are built like tiny adults. They are, very simply, the finest diapers for Littles on the market, with a heavy five-mil plastic shell that will make sure she'll never sneak up on you, but with a specially formulated matte finish to keep her from chafing, and several super-heavy soaker layers in the middle to handle her floods while she gets used to not using a toilet. Of course, the extra padding between the legs along with the stiffer plastic is absolutely guaranteed to produce the maximum waddle effect. A lot of parents have told me that their babies would drop and crawl once the diaper was wet because it was just too much bulk for them to keep their balance on two feet!" Artis nods thoughtfully, and you cringe as she continues her spiel. "Now, are we planning on taking her back to baby food and formula right away, or is she going to stay on table food for the time being?" "Oh, she'll be eating table food. I'm not especially impressed with the nutritional content of the baby food out there marketed for Littles," Artis says firmly. "Well then you'll definitely want her in one of the 'Big Kid' models, which both have a section in the rear with substantially less padding and a softer, more elastic outer shell back there, so the diaper isn't pushing back on her when she has her bowel movements, since her stools will obviously be more formed. Makes for easier cleanup too, if you catch it before she sits down anyway. You wouldn't believe how many of these poor things wind up with impactions not only because they're trying to hold it, but because those regular baby diapers are helping them do so! And we wouldn't want this little cutie to be all backed up, now, would we?" She leans down and reaches toward your face, but you stumble backward, fighting the urge to take a swipe at her with every ounce of self-control you can muster in spite of your growing lack of coordination. Clearly whatever's in the pacifier has done all it can do short of knocking you out, though at this point you're beginning to think unconsciousness would be preferable. Either way, Artis must have noticed as well, because his lightning fingers snatch it out of your mouth and drop it back to its dangling position in front of you. "So what's the difference between the 'Big Kid' models?" he asks. "Well, their classic model, the one they came out with when they first launched, is unisex, with just the extra room for BM's in the back. Their latest version, which is substantially more expensive by the way, comes in boys' and girls' versions, both of which give the baby a little reward for going pee." She reaches into a drawer on an endcap and produces a pale blue diaper, unfolding it on the highest shelf. Now you can't even see what she's doing, the damned thing is so tall, and you're left to wonder what horrors are coming. "Now this is the boys' model, which is a little less involved, because everyone knows that little boys are just waiting for a little tickle to get themselves going. So this one simply has a nice little pocket right here up front where we'd put a little penis, and as soon as he starts peeing, the pocket closes right up on him, so he gets his little tickles every time he wiggles!" She folds it back up and slips it back into the drawer. "I guess I don't quite understand why sexual stimulation is so important in a diaper," Artis says, raising his eyebrow. "Oh you haven't heard?" she asks, reaching into another drawer and pulling out a similarly pale pink diaper. "Forever Baby actually did some substantial research about sexuality, and they found that Littles who get regular chances to, you know, blow off some steam are much more calm and compliant than the poor things that don't." She suddenly reaches out for you, looking up at Artis to ask, "May I?" "Of course, of course," he replies, much to your chagrin. "No!" you squeak as she grabs you under your armpits. "You wanted your diaper changed, didn't you?" Artis asks. "Now's your opportunity." She hoists you up onto the shelf, which you now realize isn't a shelf at all, but a padded changing table top, complete with a strap that she secures across your middle in spite of your squirming. "Now this one," she says as she tears the tapes loose on your diaper and strips it away, pausing to clean you thoroughly with a wet wipe, "is the girls' model, and it has this special ridge through the middle that just hugs right up against her sensitive little parts, which gently stimulates her bladder when it's dry," she says, pointing it out to Artis while he nods. "And it has a bit more stiffness to the padding through there in order to keep it put once it's wet." She draws the diaper up and cinches each side, and you're immediately aware of said ridge, which feels nearly like getting a wedgie from a bikini bottom. She looses the strap, sits you up, and continues, "When she goes tinkle, that little ridge swells right up and stays just a little bit damp, so it's right up against her little sensitive spots, and it even has a little sensor built in that triggers a short-action vibrator. It'll give her an extra little buzz right along the ridge, so she can get herself all worked up just rocking back and forth in her playpen, or her highchair, or her crib, or anywhere else! Isn't it wonderful?" Even dry, this horrible thing is lightly stimulating, but you're repulsed at the sensation as much as anything else, and you're absolutely terrified of the idea of peeing in it. "The internal battery is only designed to run about ten minutes, which is usually more than enough to take care of her little urges." "Very interesting," Artis says. "I'm not entirely certain I want her having orgasms in public, though I can see the training advantages, teaching her to appreciate her diapers instead of loathing them." "Daddy I already hate it!" you whimper, trying to at least vent some without crossing the line again. "Oh don't worry, baby," the saleslady coos, ruffling your hair and patting your bottom. "I'm sure your daddy won't make you wear them all the time. In fact," she turns back to Artis, "Forever Baby recommends no more than one of these a day, or desensitization can start to set in. Right after lunch is your ideal time; it'll wear her out so she'll take a nap for you." "Obviously we'll want to load her up on fluids ahead of time, to make sure it works," he replies. "Absolutely," she agrees. "So what do we think?" "Daddy please no!" you beg, but you already know the answer. "I'm sold," he says. "We'll take a case of those and two cases of the classics." "Excellent. Can I interest you in some stimulating rash cream to go with that?" Your eyes bulge; is there no end to the torture devices in this place?! "No, no, I think this will do fine, unless Rosie would like some?" You shake your head fiercely, fighting back the temptation to scream at him. She laughs at your gyrations. "Alright, then let me just call for a bellhop and we'll get you rung up and on your way!" 15 Finally, the saleslady leads you and Artis toward the nearest register, out comes Artis's black credit card, and you are marched out the front door, a male similar in size to your saleslady in tow with all the hideous clothes you're going to be wearing for the next 28 days along with several huge boxes of these ridiculous diapers. Of course, you're laser-focused now on your own diaper, as it strokes away at your nether regions with each step. The sensation is still more of an irritation than a stimulation; there is no pleasure, and thankfully the saleslady's promise of it triggering your bladder doesn't seem to have come true. Perhaps the bitch was just a huckster after all, going so far out of her way to tease, degrade, and humiliate you every chance she got. Or maybe you're just so completely in shock at what you've just experienced that you've gone numb. Once back in the truck, your mind reeling from the entire experience, you finally find your voice again, though it is certainly trembling. "I... I don't... understand... uh... Daddy..." "What do you not understand, Rosie?" he asks calmly. "Why? Why did you do those things to me?" Despite your best efforts, tears begin to flow once more. "Why did you let her do those things to me? Why?!" You hear him unlatch his seatbelt, and he turns around in his seat. "If you think I enjoyed any of that in there, you're very much mistaken. That Middle in there, considering the kind of treatment they experience in Amazon society, I'm appalled at how smugly cruel she was, how much pleasure she took in tormenting you. But first of all, when we're in public, I have to behave in a way that draws as little attention to us as possible. And believe it or not, what happened in there is considered to be completely normal in this society. People's eyebrows would start raising if I treated you like an adult, respected your feelings and desires, talked to you instead of at you. "You don't seem to understand, Rosie," he continues, climbing into the back and sitting next to you, "that this is what people do to Littles every single day. They strip you of your station, babify you, and if you resist, they punish you until you give in. The few free Littles out there live in constant fear that the next Amazon they pass on the street will decide that they're adorable and in need of a new home, because just that quickly, they can be in the same or even worse situation than you were with Miranda." You're weeping now, confused, terrified, and utterly overwhelmed by the picture he paints. "But... Why?!" "Because," he sighs, "that's just the way Amazon society has viewed Littles for a thousand years or more, since their first contact. Someone decided that people your size make wonderful substitutes for actual babies, because you never grow up. And people caught on to the idea. And no one in government was all that bothered by it, because it kept the population down, and it made people happy. Well, it made Amazons happy, and that's all that mattered to them. It's only been in the last fifty or sixty years that Littles were even allowed to walk freely among us. Before that point, if someone your size showed up in a city without an Amazon "parent", the police would immediately take you to an orphanage to be adopted out. It's wrong, it's horrid, but it's just how things happened. "More importantly, though, I hope you're starting to understand why I had you undergo that cosmetic surgery. If you look and act like a normal Amazon child, then you and I can behave like a normal Amazon family. Amazons don't do things like that to their children. They love and care for and nurture their children, because they're trying to raise them up to be productive members of society. Littles are treated differently because any show of independence on the part of a Little is viewed as rebellion, and it is viewed as perfectly normal, even expected, that parents discipline rebellious Littles, that they keep them under control. The Littles you saw in that store? Notice none of them spoke? They're terrified to speak unless spoken to, because that's what is expected of a well-behaved Little. I didn't want that for you, not while you were under my care. So I remade you as an Amazon child, so at least when I wasn't specifically training you for Observation, I could give you a little bit of space to relax and enjoy a carefree life as a little girl who is spoiled rotten with pretty clothes and fine food and sightseeing with her Daddy. "But I can't do that if you open your mouth and give yourself away like that every time we go somewhere. The second you start speaking like an adult, everyone knows what's up, because no Amazon your size knows those kinds of words, nor can she put them together in perfect context like that." There's logic in what he says, reason, sense. Maybe even a little bit of warmth. But still every fiber of your being screams against it. "So you're saying if I act like a proper toddler, then everyone is nice to me, but if I try to be myself, my life is hell. How is that different from all those other Littles?" "Because like I said, Amazon children aren't expected to keep silent and always behave exactly as their parents instruct. A Little, if they're allowed solid food at all, certainly doesn't get to choose what they eat at a restaurant. They're not allowed to say 'no' to their caretakers. They're not allowed to fuss or talk back or misbehave or show any sign of rebellion. "On the other hand, no one is surprised when a toddler misbehaves a little, fusses, gets headstrong, or even throws a little tantrum. There are limits, of course, but if parents treated their actual children the same as people treat Littles, they'd be in front of a judge facing child abuse charges. So yes, you'll be able to vent a little, blow off steam, give in a little bit to the very fierce independence within you. That's something I can't let you do as a Little, but I can if you can learn how to stay in character, to act the way you look. Does that make sense?" Yes, actually, it makes perfect sense. But it doesn't make you feel any better about it. "Okay, I get it. Can we just go home now?" "Yes, we can. In fact, we probably need to get moving, to make sure you have a little privacy whenever nature decides to come calling." With that, he moves back up to the front, buckles his belt, and starts the truck. Nature... "Oh come on, Ar... I mean Daddy! You're not really going to make me..." "Yes, I am, because I'm already aware of the studies she referenced, and to the extent that it will be very helpful to you to not be full of sexual frustration a month from now, she was exactly right." "But..." you're incredulous at this thought, horrified that he actually intends to go through with it. "No buts, Rosie. Furthermore, if I have any suspicion whatsoever that you are actively trying to resist your body's urge to void, you will wear those diapers every minute you're awake until you stop, and if that means out in public, that means out in public." He pulls the truck back out onto the road and continues, "One thing that is probably helping now and will continue to help you is that the anxiety medication in your pacifier has a numbing effect on your entire body, meaning you'll be less susceptible to the physical stimulation that diaper is designed to give you." You're pretty sure you've never in your life shoved something into your mouth so quickly, and you suckle it as hard and as fast as your mouth muscles will allow you. Humiliating, degrading, none of that matters now, all you want is to find that fog again and stay there for as long as humanly possible. It doesn't take long, as hard as you're drawing on that thing, for the world to begin speeding up around you, Artis' voice from the front seat drifting further and further away. "Rosie... please take that out now. Rosie?" It comes out, but not because you actively chose to respond to him, but because you're slipping more completely into the fog now. Your head wobbles, and the pacifier falls away from your face, bouncing on its little ribbon a bit before coming to rest on your tummy. Your eyelids are so heavy now, too heavy to keep open. "Rosie?" you hear Artis call from somewhere off in the distance before the clouds come to carry you off. When next your eyes open, you're cradled in Artis' arms, your body moving in rhythm with his gait, your head buried in his chest. "Where are we?" you murmur, squirming a bit, your diaper rustling in response. "Home, sleepyhead," he chuckles. "You're certainly good at taking naps in the car like a little girl. You were asleep for a good hour and a half." He shuffles you a bit as he opens the front door and carries you in. "I... where was that clothing store?" you ask, confused. "In the capital, down in the shopping district by the shore. Meanwhile, I think we should get Rosie laid down for a while, so Daddy can bring her new wardrobe in and get it all put away, okay?" "Okay... Daddy..." you offer. He carries you into the guest bedroom and lays you on the bed, lifting up the bed railing. You feel his hand at your neck, and you sleepily watch as he removes the ribbon, taking the pacifier with it, lifting it up in the air to examine the nipple. "Time to refill this, apparently. That was supposed to be a full fourteen hours' worth of doses," he chuckles. "Oh well, have a nice nap, Rosie." With that, he leaves the room, closing the door behind him. Still drowsy, you roll over onto your side, and your diaper gently tickles up and down your clitoris in response. The urge to pee is upon you quickly, too quickly for you to stop it, and it's mere seconds between when the flow starts and you are awakened fully, suddenly, and violently by the powerful vibrations, the damp padding forcing itself fully against your entire groin, expanding inside your labia, sending shockwaves surging through your body. You flop onto your back involuntarily, arching your neck in response to the incredible intensity. You whimper, writhing as pee continues to spurt out of you, swelling the padding further, which just presses it tighter against you, every slight movement rubbing it up and down. Before long you're bucking, your hands grabbing hold of the plastic between your legs, trying in vain to pull it away, to stop what's about to happen, but all it does is rustle loudly, teasing you with the noise. You moan involuntarily, but the horror of what's happening fills your eyes with tears as fast as the juices begin to escape your vagina. "Nnn...nnnn...NO!" you scream over and over again, but you're helpless to stop it. The first orgasm comes like lightning, overriding your dignity with a rush of endorphins so powerful your mind goes blank and your hands move of their own accord, slamming the plastic against your groin, pressing it with all your might. You're sobbing, wailing, whining, begging it to stop, but the orgasms keep coming in wave after wave, the diaper swelling larger and larger between your legs, pressing them farther apart as you come and pee simultaneously, amplifying the humiliation and the pleasure all at once. It seems like hours have passed before the horrible thing finally stops buzzing, but the cycle continues even longer, the momentum of your physical responses to orgasm after orgasm keep the now-sodden mass of pulp pressing, rubbing against you. You try to reach for the tapes, pull them apart, but your hands seem to have a mind of their own now, grasping and stroking whatever they come in contact with. "DADDY PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!" you finally scream out in desperation, sobbing helplessly as your body twitches and writhes. "PLEASE!" Artis rushes in. "Alright sweetie, alright," he says softly as he rips the tapes loose and pulls the front of the diaper down. You collapse, still sobbing, feeling dirty, degraded, humiliated, but grateful for the cool air between your legs. "Please, Daddy, don't make me do that again!" you blubber. "Just relax, Rosie, relax. Daddy's going to get you cleaned up and changed now, he's just got to get your supplies, okay?" "Please let me take a bath Daddy!" you cry. "Please?!" "Alright, alright, we can have a bath. Lay still and I'll get the water running." He leaves and returns shortly after, quickly taking your shirt off and swaddling you in a towel, carrying your still-twitching form into the bathroom and gently placing you into the tub, tucking the pacifier into your mouth, which you nurse gratefully, but much more slowly than before. "Daddy get you all cleaned up now, Rosie. All cleaned up now," he says, his voice soft, soothing, as rhythmic as the soapy washcloth he pushes across your chest while he supports your back with his other hand. He is gentle and thorough, despite your whole body twitching when he touches your private areas, despite your periodic hiccups, and between the warm water and the drugs, you somehow manage to find a way to relax, both mind and body. By the time he has you dried off and dressed, the fresh, clean diaper around your middle is like a warm, welcome hug, and the ruffly, powder-pink dress with the smocking across the chest and white lace trim that looked so garish on its hanger actually seems sort of cute. You even find yourself giggling softly at the silliness of this new outfit while he rocks you gently in his lap. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you're wondering if this is what going insane feels like... 15 It's a short time... or maybe a long time, you're not sure which, that you find yourself sitting back on the couch, Artis sitting next to you, the sounds of some sort of New-Age music playing through the television with scenes of majestic fog-covered mountains and soft, sandy beaches cascading by. Emotionally, you're pretty well spent at this point, grateful to have your own fog drifting in and out as you intermittently feed yourself from the pacifier, grateful for its serene little waves washing over your mind, in and out like the tide. "I have some bad news," Artis finally speaks up. Whatever it is, you don't want to hear it, and you offer him a look that says the same. He's determined to give it to you, though. "The cupboards weren't particularly well-stocked when we got here. Meaning we need to get some groceries and, considering neither of us have eaten since this morning, I'm thinking we should probably get dinner out." Nope, you definitely didn't want to hear that. "I... can't handle any more today, Art... Daddy. Please..." "You don't have to handle any more today, Rosie." "So, you're gonna go shopping and I'll wait here?" you ask hopefully. "No, but you have an opportunity to do like I suggested earlier," he says. "I don't even remember..." "Like I said, right now you look like my daughter, not a Little I adopted. For all anyone knows, you're just small for your age. Relax. Use simple words, or don't even talk at all if you don't want. Make silly noises. Play. Have fun. Be shy. Be coy. Be cute. Be a little girl for a while. Think I didn't hear you giggle earlier when you looked at yourself? Find that place." You're not sure if it's the drugs or the music or just being completely exhausted from all the stress this morning, but what he's saying almost makes sense. It certainly beats the alternative, being humiliated at every turn because you outed yourself as a Little. Still yet, you're not exactly excited about the idea, and you're still pretty suspicious of Artis' wildly unpredictable attitude. "How do I know you're not gonna just suddenly change your mind while we're out somewhere and start encouraging everyone within earshot to humiliate me again like this morning?" you ask as calmly as you can. "I told you this earlier, Rosalita. I don't enjoy making you suffer. As long as you don't give yourself away, as far as I'm concerned you're my niece come to visit while her parents are on a cruise. There are going to be certain situations we will be in over the next month where yes, I'm going to be treating you like a Little, and everyone is going to know that you're a Little, and you'll be under pressure to behave like a perfect little angel, but I promise you, if I tell you in advance that you can play the cute kid role while we're out somewhere, then the only way that changes is if you don't stay in character." "I don't guess there's an option 'C' here, is there?" you offer glumly. "If for no other reason than our tracking devices, no, there isn't." You begin to concentrate. What were you like when you were tiny? You reach out for memories, but there are only wisps; so many things have happened, it's like you never even had a past before that fateful day you defied Papa. "I... don't even remember being that young." "Did you have siblings?" he asks. Well, that you certainly did. Armida was only three years your junior, though. You close your eyes and try to picture her. She was the penultimate yang to your yin; quiet, deferential, one might even say introverted. She was always sweet, though, even when she was little. You remember her looking up to you despite your boisterous, fiercely independent nature. "She used to call me Paw-Paw," you chuckle. "Who?" he asks smiling. You didn't even realize you'd said it out loud. "My little sister, Armida. She followed me everywhere, whether I wanted her to or not. But she was never in the way, more like having a mascot. She called me Paw-Paw because when she was little, 'Pauletta' was too much to pronounce." "Think about how she used to talk. Say something in her voice," he encourages. "Come pay tea wif me, Paw-Paw!" you lisp. It's almost shocking how much like her you sound, what with your newly high-pitched voice. "Good, good!" he laughs. "And what would little Rosie like for dinner tonight?" His words are broad and exaggerated, and you giggle in spite of yourself. "Chicken an' fwies!" you squeak, offering a toothy grin. "Chicken and French fries?! But you always have chicken and French fries!" he says, continuing the silly lilt to his speech. "Nuh-uh! I had wohnees last night!" "Oh that's right you did have macaroni, didn't you? Well I guess maybe you can have chicken and fries tonight, then, but only if you get TICKLES FIRST!" His fingers are up under your armpits before you can react, and now you're squirming and squealing and giggling helplessly. "Daddy! Stop!" you shriek, gasping for breath in between peals of laughter as he continues, "No more!" Your bladder announces it's about to give up its accumulation, but you're helpless to do anything about it. "Daddy! Pee-pee!!!" you squeal. This finally seems to slow him down. "Well good, now you can have a nice clean diaper before we leave, and there won't be much chance of needing a change while we're out." He smiles as you pant, a warm bulge expanding between your legs. So he had an ulterior motive. And, all told, you can't very well complain about it. The last thing you need is having to ask him for a diaper change in public. The scariest part, though, is how easily you were able to fall into that speech pattern, into... that mindset... Was this some sort of manipulation on his part? Was it part of his "preparation" plan? "You're brooding again," he says, snapping you out of your thoughts as he lays you down on the carpet and proceeds with the now-familiar changing ritual. "Is this part of it?" you ask. "Trying to get me into thinking like a little kid?" "No, actually," he says as he lifts your legs effortlessly, wiping and powdering you with a gloved hand. "This has nothing to do with the Observation. It's exactly what I said it is; making it easier for you when we're out in public." "Then why does it feel like you're in my head again?" "Probably because you know what I'm trying to do here, but you don't know exactly how I'm doing it, so you're questioning everything I do. Which is exactly the opposite of what you need to be doing, because you being on edge all the time is just going to make the process more difficult." He tapes you up and strips his gloves off, tossing them onto the wet diaper before pulling you into his lap. "So in a way, I guess you could say this is part of the process, because anything I can do to help you relax will make it all much easier, even the parts that we both know will stress you out." He starts to rock you gently, rubbing your back, which feels amazing, as bizarre as it is to be cradled in the lap of a man you only met a day ago. "So can Rosie find her way back to that happy little girl place again?" A sigh escapes your lips, a product of the warmth, the relaxation you feel as you nuzzle his chest. "Binky, Daddy," you mumble. Of course it's dangling from your collar and you know it, but that doesn't mean you want to move. "Of course little Rosie can have her binky," he says, reaching down and teasing your lips with it. You accept it gratefully, but instead of suckling, you just let it rest on your tongue. "Shank you, Daddy" you lisp. "So we ready to go grocery shopping?" he asks quietly. "Uh-uh. Cuddle, Daddy." "Okay, we can cuddle a while first." Simple words. Simple thoughts. Simple feelings. It's not hard, really. At least, not when you're like this, a puddle in Daddy's lap. You wonder how long it'll last when others are watching, when self-consciousness creeps back into your thought process. No, no, no, that's a big person thought. Butterflies. Fairies. Chicken and "fwies". Your "binky". Those are the happy places. Let's just stay there for a while. 16 "So, has little Rosie decided she's hungry enough to go out?" he finally asks. Truth be told, your stomach is growling a little. You wonder if he felt the rumble too. You look up and offer a big grin and an exaggerated nod. "Well then let's go get some chicken and fries for that empty little tum-tum!" he chuckles. He starts to slide you off his lap, but you latch onto his arms. "Oh, so we want a ride, do we?" "Uh HUH!" you chirp, offering the silliest, toothiest smile you can muster to drive home the point. It's too damned comfortable in his huge arms, and besides, as much of that medicine as you've taken today, you don't even want to know how wobbly your legs are. "Well how can I say no to an adorable little face like that?" he says as he gathers you up, stands, and settles you on his hip. Your bottom rustles noisily against his arm as he walks, slightly bouncing you in rhythm with his stride as he carries you out the door and to the car, buckling you in gently as you let out a contented sigh. This new head space you've discovered, or he helped you discover, is soothing all on its own; there's no anxiety here, and you find yourself noticing things about the world around you that you hadn't paid attention to for a very long time: the vibrant colors of the sky as the sun begins to set, brilliant red with dark purple wisps of clouds dancing through it, the feel of cool wind rushing across your face as Artis opens the windows in the truck, the smell of that fresh air coming out of the groves of trees as though they were exhaling it just for you. There's not even any dread as you arrive at the grocery store. You rest your head on Artis' shoulders as he carries you in, and instead of derision like at that horrible Littles store, the people that pass by offer smiles and waves and "Isn't she adorable?" And you play coy with them, hiding your face, then poking it back out with a wide grin, which just brings more delighted responses. When you giggle, the whole world around you revels in it. They ask how old you are, and Artis tells them over and over that you just turned three. And they believe him, and you get little tickles on your leg and scratches under your chin, and you just keep right on playing it up. Now your legs are dangling in the baby seat of the grocery cart as Artis pushes it through the store, your dress all bunched up around your waist. You're too busy pointing and laughing as Artis asks you to pick out food items and plays guessing games as to what exactly you want. It's too much fun to just thrust your arm out in a vague direction and giggle, then shake your head over and over again, your ringlets flying every which way until he gets it right. You're the biggest star in the grocery store right now, everyone in line of sight mesmerized by your little performance. By the time Artis starts toward the checkout line, basket filled with staple foods, but with plenty of little treats that you got by batting your eyes at Artis until he gave in, you've fallen completely into the role, bouncing and squeaking and playing peek-a-boo with anyone who'll join by covering your face with your hands. Another cart is parallel to you in the next checkout line, this one with what is clearly a Little, and a rather unhappy one at that, in the baby seat, her "mommy" scolding her while she snivels. Your heart goes out to her; you've been in that place before. No! You can't let this break the spell! Happy thoughts! Simple thoughts! You point to her and look up at Artis. "Bebe?" "Yes, baby." "Bebe cry?" "Yes, baby is crying." "Bebe go pee-pee?" "I don't know, maybe." "Bebe diaper change!" The mommy takes notice of the exchange. "Baby is being fussy because she wouldn't take a nap today," she answers. "She's a cranky baby, and she's going to get her supper and bath and straight to bed as soon as she gets home." "Ohhhh," you reply. Keep fighting it. Simple words. Simple thoughts. You grab your binky and tuck it into your mouth, determined to stay in the happy place. "Wozie went nap nap today!" Artis laughs. "Yes, Rosie took a good nap today, that's why she's so bouncy and happy now!" "See that, baby Kimmy?" The lady stares down at the little, who looks for all the world like she's trying to sink through the crossbars of the seat and into the floor, though her eyes are locked on you from behind her own pacifier. "Little girls who do what their mommies and daddies tell them are much happier than ones who fuss and whine and throw fits. See how happy she is? I bet her daddy doesn't ever have to spank her." "Oh, Rosie gets fussy sometimes, doesn't she?" Artis smiles. You shake your head hard, to bounce your curls around some more. "Nuh uh. Wozie good girl! Wozie not fussy baby! Kimmy fussy baby!" You point at the little, and she looks away. "Yes, that's right. Kimmy's a very fussy baby!" the lady agrees. "Your daughter is positively adorable! How old?" "She just turned three." The woman's face changes a bit. "And not potty trained yet? Tsk tsk." Damn her. Your turn to do the head drop. You blush in spite of yourself. "She will when she's ready, won't you, Rosie?" Artis smiles as he lifts your chin up. "We don't have to be in a big hurry to grow up, do we?" "Wozie not big girl?" You're trying to stay in character, but it's getting tougher, now that the focus is on the underwear you don't even need. Why'd he have to pick 3? If he'd said 2, no one would have cared. "Sweetie, you can be a little girl for as long as you need, and when you're ready, you can be a big girl too. Daddy loves you, no matter how big or little you are." He kisses your forehead, and suddenly that huffy lady with the adopted Little doesn't matter so much. You reach your arms up to him as the line shifts, and he chuckles as he hoists you up onto his hip. "Lub you Daddy!" you whisper, resting your head back on his shoulder. "Lub you too Rosie," he whispers back. The line moves forward, and a Tweener man appears, putting a divider behind the groceries on the conveyer belt and hurriedly emptying your cart behind it as the belt rolls forward. It's the first time you notice, all the front-end workers, baggers and cashiers alike, are all Tweeners, and they scurry around at maximum speed, occasionally glancing down to the end of the row. A huge Amazon, taller than Artis even, stands there, arms folded, scanning up and down the checkout lines. These people fear him, much more profoundly than someone just worried about keeping their jobs, and you can't help but wonder why. They're nothing like that horrible Tweener salesperson from the Littles baby store. They offer polite greetings, to each of the customers, but never make eye contact, constantly focusing on the next task, emptying a cart, filling a bag, loading bags into the cart, following the customers to their cars and loading the bags for them, then scurrying back to the store to return the empty one and find another job to do. Once Artis buckles you in, you can't help but ask. "Why were they all so scared, Daddy?" The toddler show is over, and your voice returns to normal, even though you remember your manners as you address him. "Who was scared, Rosie?" "Come on, Daddy, all the grocery clerks, they were terrified of that one Amazon watching them." "Tweeners who work unskilled jobs like that are usually on their last chance, Rosie. Some of them have been in jail, others have been fired from more prestigious positions for various reasons, be it slacking on the job, mouthing off to their bosses, or just general incompetence." "So... what happens if they get fired from there?" In your gut, you already know the answer. "As far as Amazons are concerned, if a Tweener can't be a productive member of society, then they're just like a Little, and they are sent off to become Littles and be adopted." "Wait, 'become' Littles?" "Yep. We have shrink rays and aging reversal nanites for that purpose, though their use is tightly regulated by Parliament. They're also used on Amazons who get in trouble with the law one too many times. I'd be willing to bet at least one of those Tweeners used to be an Amazon, and they're getting one last chance to behave themselves before they get sentenced to Etiquette School." "You mean, some of the Littles we saw could have been Tweeners or Amazons once?" "It's actually quite likely here in Candohar, considering the rules we have in place about importing Free Littles." "Free Littles... like I used to be..." "Yes, any Free Little adoption has to be registered with the national child welfare office, which must include paperwork signed by the Little or that Little's legal guardian at the time of the adoption. Which is why the scant few Free Little adoptions are typically cases like yours, where the parent, seeing the child as incorrigible, signs over the child's rights before they turn 20. Only on very rare occasions does an adult Little willingly sign that paperwork, and usually it's because they're in some other sort of trouble, and adoption is their only way out. They're in debt over their heads, or they're on the run because they committed a crime on their home island. Lots of different reasons, but none of them are ever good." You don't answer. No wonder adopted Littles are viewed so dimly here. Most of them earned their fate. All you did was refuse to marry someone you didn't even like, never mind love. 17 You're brooding now, staring out the open window. All the little feelings that made you so happy are background noise. The wind whips across your ear loudly, involuntarily tearing up your eyes if you turn your head too much. The sun on the horizon is blistering bright, forcing you to look away. And here in what looks like the downtown area of this little village, the air isn't fresh and clean, just a confusion of smells that remind you of your empty stomach. And at the center of it all is your frustrated, despondent, angry helplessness. How is this fair? How am I supposed to believe that Po is good and fair and just when he lets me suffer like this? I would have been better off jumping into the volcano and letting Pele decide my fate. The thoughts swirl through your mind. Mama, why didn't you stop him? Why didn't you protect me? I was your firstborn! Didn't you love me? I always knew Papa hated me, he clearly loved Armida more than me, but you were my shield, whenever he favored her over me, you were there to restore the balance... Why did you abandon me? Your tightly clenched fists tremble, and tears of rage fill your eyes. Damn you, Papa! I hope Armida gets taken too! I hope she has all her teeth taken out and gets her ankles cut, and I hope you're there to see it, you traitorous dog! See your golden child have her future stolen too, be humiliated and debased like I have been! I hope the whole of the village shames you into exile for being such a terrible father, and the image of Armida the helpless baby haunting you every minute until you draw your last lonely, miserable breath! DAMN you! The hate surges through you, and it feels good. It feels like being alive again. Like that little window of time you had, standing over Miranda's body, naked and covered in her blood, before the police came and took you off to prison. You hate Papa with every fiber of your being. What you did to that Amazon bitch, you'd do to him if you ever got the opportunity. In fact, you lust after that thought. Just one chance. After this miserable Observation is done, maybe you'll get that chance. Once you convince these giant monsters that you're no danger to them, you can be free again, free to return to the island and give Papa what he deserves for his treachery. And Mama too, for being such a coward, for not protecting you when you needed it most. You promise yourself in this moment to hang on to that thought, no matter what happens. One day, you'll see justice done to both of them for this, even if you have to get that justice yourself. If the police want to kill you after that, so be it. You'll see that day first, you swear. But first back to the present. Artis is still driving, and he's looking at you like he said something. Wait, he expects you to act like a child, else there'll be more misery at the restaurant. You try and muster up that cutesy voice you had at the grocery store. "What Daddy?" you ask. "I said that was an awfully grumpy little face you had on, Rosie! What's wrong?" You stuff the pacifier in your mouth. "Nuffin' Daddy!" "Are you sure? You seemed awfully upset after I told you about the Middles at the grocery." "It made me sad that there are lots of big people that can't take care of themselves and need to be babied." You're choosing your words carefully here, trying to at least perpetrate whatever mindset you had before the grocery store trip. "Why didn't that lady just adopt one of them instead of me?" "Supply and demand, Rosie. There are more Amazons who want Littles than the penal system can possibly supply, because most Amazons obey the law. Also, some people just want wild Littles, because they're nervous about adopting former criminals, even though they are put through rigorous etiquette training and whatever modifications deemed necessary for them to be safe to adopt. Of course, as widely publicized as your situation was, the demand for wild Littles will probably slack off for a while." Lot of good that does me. You suck on the pacifier a little bit. You know you have to get out of this mindset before you get to the restaurant. Simple thoughts. Simple feelings, you remind yourself. "Well I'm glad you're my Daddy now! You're much nicer that that mean lady." Maybe a complement will satisfy him enough to let you alone. "I'm glad you're my little girl now too." Something about his voice sounded off when he said that, but the medication is kicking in now, and it's hard to hold on to complicated thoughts. You let it drop from your mouth and stare out the window, watching all the blobs fly by. True to his word, Artis let you pick out your dinner from a children's menu at the restaurant. The waitress finds you adorable, and Artis weaves a little side-story to her about how your Em Oh Em Em Why passing away delayed your emotional development, which only increases her affection toward you. You play it up effortlessly, enjoying all the attention you're getting for acting like a silly toddler, making cute noises and playing with your food. After Artis pays the tab and you wave exaggerated bye-byes to the waitress, who kisses your cheek in return and tells you once more how adorable you are, he carries you back to the car and buckles you in. He gets in as well, and once the door is closed, he speaks up. "You were very, very good in there, Rosie. I'm proud of you!" "Fank you, Daddy!" You're in full character momentum now, no need to stop. "See how easy it is to make them believe that you're an Amazon girl, not a Little?" "Wosie a Am-ee-zon girl, Daddy!" He chuckles. "Of course you are, silly goose! And when we get home, a certain Am-ee-zon girl needs a bath and her jammies on, doesn't she?" "Aw but I don' wanna go night-night, Daddy!" "I didn't say you had to go night-night right away, silly. If you're a good girl for Daddy, once we get your jammies on, we can watch a movie, before sleepy-time, okay?" "Yay!" You thoughtlessly pee in your diaper and feel it swell ever so slightly. You barely noticed that you had to go before it started, but between the lingering anxiety medication and the warm glow of being doted on all throughout dinner, the thought hardly stays with you but a few seconds. It'll be a month before I can do anything about it anyway, why should I care now? It's "Daddy's" problem, right? When you get home, Artis draws you a luxuriously hot bath with sweet-smelling bath bubbles. He dons a much longer pair of latex gloves than the ones he uses for diaper changes, then takes off your clothes and settles you into the tub. It's so soothing, so relaxing, you can feel your arms and legs just turning to jelly in the heat. Artis reaches for a loofa and some soap, and you quickly realize why the long gloves as he begins to wash you, dipping his hand into the water halfway up his forearm, but stopping short of the edge of the glove. "We'll have to see about getting some bath toys tomorrow, maybe some other things for little Rosie to play with too! How's that sound?" "Mhmm." You're so relaxed, you can't even bother putting on a facade of caring. He probably could tell you he's taking you anywhere short of back to prison and it wouldn't blip on your radar right now. Once Artis is content with your current state of cleanliness and the water has just started to cool, he lifts you out gently and wraps you in a soft, fluffy towel. He carries you into the bedroom, lays you on an open diaper on the bed, then proceeds to rub lotion into your arms and legs and chest. The whole experience is heavenly, and by the time he's done your limbs feel like they're made of lead. Gods, if she had treated me like this, I could have been perfectly happy being her baby the rest of my life. "Fank you Daddy." The fake lisp aside, it's a genuine sentiment. He tapes your diaper up and slips a nightie on you. "You're welcome, Rosie. Feel good?" "Uh huh." "Good, let's go watch that movie." You don't last five minutes in his lap before sleep claims you.