“What the hell are you doing?” Gabriella asked incredulously, as she stared down at Andrea, lying frozen on the floor. Andrea was utterly speechless. On one level, she knew that lying on the floor wasn’t something so strange that it needed some kind of deep explanation, even if it was a little odd. But she couldn’t suppress the feeling that she had been caught in the midst of something deeply, deeply embarrassing, and she couldn’t keep her cheeks from growing warm and red as she blushed. Gabriella looked surprised and confused, but there was a little half-smile on her face, like she couldn’t quite believe her own luck.
“Gaby! I, um…” Andrea shook her head, dazed, as she ungracefully scrambled to her feet. Why was it so hard for her to think? “I just slipped.”
Gabriella cocked her head to one side. “Um, no, you didn’t.”
“No, I-” Andrea began to protest, before completely deflated. “How do you know?” she asked timidly.
“You don’t look like you just slipped over,” Gabriella replied. “And I was knocking at your door for a while, and I didn’t hear you fall or cry out. So, what were you really doing?”
“Um…” Try as she might, Andrea couldn’t think of any possible explanation she could give. She ended up standing awkwardly in front of Andrea, shifting from side to side slightly, saying nothing.
“Were…” Gabriella ventured, still sounding incredulous. “Were you… sleeping?”
“No!” At that exact moment, a large, loud yawn forced its way out of Andrea’s body. Gabriella raised one perfectly-shaped eyebrow, and Andrea looked down, embarrassed.
“So,” Gabriella started walking slowly back and forth in front of Andrea, prowling her office. The half-smile on her face was blooming into a delighted grin. “You were sleeping. Sleeping on the job.”
Andrea wanted to say something in her own defense, but instead she let out a little, dejected whine. Gabriella threw her a weird look, but didn’t say anything. Andrea pinched herself. What was going on with her today?
Gabriella stopped pacing. “Why the floor?”
“It…” Andrea felt compelled to answer. “It was just comfortable.”
“Huh.” Gabriella looked at the floor skeptically. “Whatever floats your boat, I guess.”
The pacing resumed. Logically, Andrea knew that it was her office they were standing in. She was the senior employee here, even if Gabriella’s personal connections to the owner of the company meant that it didn’t always feel that way. She’d be perfectly within her rights to tell Gabriella to get lost and get back to work. And yet, she was just standing there as meekly as a wounded puppy. Andrea realized that she felt almost like a child being scolded by a parent. It was absurd, and she knew that she ought to reassert herself and behave the way a manager should, but she just couldn’t bring herself to.
“Still,” Gabriella continued, “I’m surprised. You’re always such a hard-ass. This was the last way I expected to find you. Are you feeling OK?”
Andrea wasn’t quite sure how to put it into words, especially not in a way that anyone else would believe. “I guess I’m feeling pretty weird today,” she ventured.
“Hmm.” Gabriella stopped pacing again, and stared at Andrea intently for a moment, as if studying her. Andrea could almost see the cogs turning in her younger coworker’s head. “You know, it’s funny,” Gabriella said eventually. “If one of us said something like that, you’d probably chew us out for it. Right? I mean, ‘I’m feeling pretty weird today’ is pretty weak.”
Andrea trembled. She nodded miserably. The worst part was, it was true. Strict, but fair - that was how Andrea liked to think of her management style. She tried not to place unfair demands on anyone, but if she found an employee sleeping at their desk without a very good excuse, she wouldn’t be inclined to show mercy. Upon seeing how dejected Andrea looked, Gabriella’s eyes lit up like Christmas lights. It was as if she’d just won the lottery. Her visible glee filled Andrea with dread. Gabriella De Luca was many things, but she was rarely kind or merciful. Andrea just wished she could keep what she was feeling off of her face, but it seemed impossible. Everything she felt was so intense, and so immediate. It completely tore through her ability to put on a professional mask, and left her at Gabriella’s mercy.
“I guess it’s probably a little embarrassing.” Gabriella was warming to her theme, and starting to lean into the role of the assured, icy mean girl she played so well. Her voice was full of mock sympathy. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want anyone else to hear about it.”
That comment managed to pierce Andrea’s mental fog for a brief moment. Blackmail? That was a big step too far. She couldn’t let Gabriella pull that with her. Gathering up as much of her willpower as she could, she tried to bring things back under control. “Gabriella, that’s enough. I-”
“Especially not my aunt.” Going straight for Andrea’s throat, Gabriella interrupted her with ease. She stepped forwards, putting her face just inches from Andrea’s. They were about the same height, but in that moment, Andrea felt distinctly small and cowed. Gabriella’s threat had some real bite to it. Mrs. De Luca was the owner of the company, and even though she rarely put in an appearance at the office, Andrea knew she wasn’t so disinterested that she wouldn’t swoop in to chew someone out or even fire them if she felt it was necessary. And the way Gabriella had managed to get her job was proof that she had the ability to influence her aunt. Would Mrs. De Luca really fire her over this? Andrea wasn’t sure, but she didn’t want to find out, especially since she didn’t put it past Gabriella to significantly embellish whatever story she told.
“N-no,” Andrea whimpered. What little fight she’d been able to muster went out of her completely. Why did it slip away so easily? Why did she feel so weak?
“Good.” A grin split Gabriella’s face from ear to ear. Her cheeks were flushed. Andrea could almost have believed she was getting off on blackmailing her. “I’m glad we understand each other.”
Andrea just whimpered again. She’d never felt so thoroughly dejected. It wasn’t like her, but she couldn’t even focus on figuring out why. She still felt half-asleep, dazed and dreamy, and the only thing that seemed to pierce her mental fog was the bitter sharpness of Gabriella’s bullying.
“Oh my god, don’t look at me like that!” Gabriella sighed. “What’s with you today? You look like a sad puppy. Look, I’m not asking for anything crazy. Just… give a nice, long lunch break.” She raised one of her hands, palm down, and inspected her own fingertips. “My manicure could use a little touching up.”
Andrea was almost grateful to hear such a mild demand. At least, mild in comparison to what she’d been dreading. But there was still a big problem. “B-but…” she stammered timidly. “The project… the deadline!”
“Your problem!” Gabriella declared offhandedly. She had already turned away and was striding towards the door, a fresh spring in her step. “Just get Zel to do it, or something. I need to make an appointment.”
And then she was gone. Andrea was left dumbfounded. It felt as if a cyclone had just blown right through her office, and she had no idea how to pick herself back up in its wake. She found herself forlornly wishing she could just curl back up on the floor and go back to sleep. The thought brought a smile to herself, but she forced herself to shake it off. She’d wasted enough time already today, and what had just happened had demonstrated that she couldn’t afford to be so careless again. She needed to focus on fixing the mess she’d already landed herself in. Andrea frowned as she went to sit in her chair. They were already behind on their deadlines. They needed all hands on deck, and they’d just lost one. Gabriella wasn’t exactly the hardest worker at the office, but she was better than nothing. How could she make up time now? Normally, when deadlines were getting perilously tight, Zel was the person she turned to. Andrea winced as she remembered the way Zel had rebuffed her earlier when she’d asked them to take on extra work. It had been so out of character, and it had stung pretty hard. Andrea couldn’t stand the thought of asking again. But who else was there?
“Hey, Andrea?” Andrea almost jumped out of her skin at the voice, coming from the doorway to her office. She hadn’t realized that Gabriella hadn’t bothered to close the door on her way out. Fortunately, it was only Priyanka. Andrea breathed a small sigh of relief at the sight of a genuinely friendly face, but for some reason she still couldn’t escape a faint feeling of embarrassment. “Sorry,” Priyanka added. “I just saw Gaby come out of here and head off somewhere. I knocked earlier but… I guess you were out?” She sounded unsure. Andrea blushed.
“Um, yeah. Yes.” In an effort to compose herself, Andrea reached up to rearrange her hair a little. She groaned when she found that her bad hair day only seemed to have gotten worse as she’d slept. Her normally-orderly hair had become a curled, dense, messy mop, with two pronounced tufts on top. It almost didn’t seem possible; Andrea wasn’t sure she didn’t even have that much hair on her head, and it had never turned so curly before. She quickly realized that trying to fix it with her bare hands was utterly futile, and gave up. “What’s up, Pri?”
Priyanka stepped into the office and closed the door. “I was hoping we could talk about the IXO patch project. You know, the one I’ve been working on with Ted and Suki.”
“Um, right.” It took Andrea to remember what Priyanka was talking about. She was so frazzled. “How’s that going?”
“”It’s…” Priyanka took a deep breath. “It’s behind schedule. Ted’s mad about it. I’ve been working on it, but my other work is piling up too. If I put any more time into the patch, the projects are going to suffer. I think I got Suki working but, well, I don’t think that’s going to be enough.” Andrea was half-listening to Priyanka’s words, but mostly she was simply struck by how different Priyanka seemed. Had she done something with her look? Andrea couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was as if she wore her curves with more openness and comfort. She seemed much more confident than usual. “The bottom line is that I think we need another pair of hands, Andrea.”
Andrea tensed, that dire message bringing her back from the brink of distraction. They needed more time? More work? The IXO patch was the one project Andrea had been counting on to remain within its deadline, however narrowly. Thinking about that going wrong brought forth images of a chain of dominoes all collapsing, one after the other. Completely forgetting her usual sense of professional decorum, she dropped her head into her hands and groaned loudly.
“Andrea?” Priyanka sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything,” Andrea answered bluntly. She felt like she was about to cry. She couldn’t be falling to pieces in front of Priyanka like this, but it all felt too hopeless. “The L-soft contract is behind, and so is the Axe.net contract, and now this. We don’t have another pair of hands anywhere, for anything. And Zel snapped at me, and I… and Gabriella… and…”
“Hey,” Priyanka suddenly intervened. “There there. It’s gonna be OK. You just need to give yourself a minute. Let me… here.”
Priyanka walked around Andrea’s desk and pulled her into a hug. Andrea stiffened momentarily at the unexpected gesture, but then quickly melted into her co-worker’s embrace. She was still sitting in her chair and Priyanka was standing over her, meaning that her head was being cradled just below the level of Priyanka’s chest, resting on the gentle curve of her belly. Despite her stress, Andrea found it easy to close her eyes and smile, basking in the warmth of another’s body. She felt so comforted, and she couldn’t believe how soft Priyanka felt. She’d never really thought much about her body before, besides noticing that she was pretty chubby, but now it was all she could think about. Her scent, her softness, her warmth, Andrea wanted to bury herself in it, lose herself in it. She wanted more. All thoughts of professionalism were gone. She wanted nothing more than the comfort and relaxation that Priyanka seemed to be offering. A few happy, contented, wordless sounds escaped her lips.
“See?” Priyanka said, pulling away slightly. “That’s better, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the IXO patch. Just leave it to me.”
Casually, as if it was totally normal, she reached down and started to pat Andrea on her head, slowly and gently combing through her hair a little as she did so. Andrea didn’t know why Priyanka was doing it, but she knew how it felt. It felt heavenly. It was one of the best sensations she’d ever felt, better than any massage. It was like a ray of pure sunlight, brightening her mood and warming her from her head to her toes. Andrea couldn’t believe it. Each pat on her head sent a fresh, energizing wave of warmth running all the way through her. All other thoughts were gone from her head. She wanted nothing more than for Priyanka to keep petting her forever. Small, throaty moans kept passing from her lips, muffled slightly as Andrea squeezed herself further into Priyanka’s body. She was in heaven.
But then, Priyanka pulled away. Andrea looked up, whining in disappointment. The look of intense embarrassment and discomfort on Priyanka’s face brought her crashing back down to earth. “I’m sorry!” Priyanka said quickly. “I-I don’t know what I was thinking! Oh god, and you’re my boss…”
“N-no, it’s OK!” Now that the warm glow around her mind had faded, Andrea was feeling just as mortified as Priyanka looked. She wasn’t sure why Priyanka was so embarrassed. She’d just been offering some comfort. Andrea was the one who had been being weird about it. Andrea rose awkwardly to her feet as Priyanka started to back away. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why… it just felt nice, I-I guess. I-”
“But I shouldn’t have just… just started doing that!” Priyanka interrupted, practically tripping over herself in her eagerness to apologize. “I should have asked! Or just, um, not. It’s so…”
“It’s not!” Andrea replied, just as eagerly. “It’s just, um, I don’t know why, but it just felt so good. I really don’t know why…” She trailed off, momentarily growing hazy again as she recalled how incredible Priyanka’s head-pats had felt.
“Oh god, what if you report me to HR? What if-” Priyanka suddenly froze. “Um… Andrea? Are you… OK?”
“What?” Priyanka was staring at her with a strange look on her face. “What are you…” Andrea looked down at herself to see what Priyanka was staring at. Once she saw it, she froze too. She’d been wiggling. There was no other word for it that she could think of. Unconsciously, she’d been leaning forward and shaking her hips, like an over-excited puppy wagging its tail. In fact, despite having frozen still in shock, Andrea quickly found herself struggling to keep a lid on the strange new impulse.
“Yes!” Andrea cried shrilly, drawing herself up as straight as she could. Her face was burning white-hot. “I’m totally fine! I promise!”
“Good,” Priyanka replied shakily. An awkward pause followed, before she added: “Um, I should just go, then.”
“Yes,” Andrea agreed quickly. She clearly needed some time alone to pull herself together. But as Priyanka made to leave, Andrea remembered what she’d promised. “Um. Will you really take care of it? The patch project?”
Priyanka paused, and looked at her for a moment. “Yes,” she answered finally. “I promise.”
Despite her intense shame, Andrea was able to breathe a small sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
Priyanka swiftly left the room and closed the door behind herself, leaving Andrea alone once more. Andrea collapsed back into her chair. She still had a mountain of stress to cope with, but knowing that Priyanka was going to take care of a small part of it took the edge off. Now, though, she had a far more pressing question to deal with: what the hell was happening to her?
What the hell was happening to her? That was the one and only question running through Priyanka’s mind as she left Andrea’s office. The moment she closed the door behind herself and made sure there was no-one around, she slumped against the door, breathing hard. Why had she done that? Why had she done any of that? Why had she felt the way she’d felt? It had been so strong, so visceral. She didn’t know how to process it. The moment she’d noticed how vulnerable Andrea seemed, an irresistible, thundering urge had taken over every fiber of her being. She’d been completely swept up in the feelings of power and dominance that had seized her. Embracing Andrea and patting her head had felt so seductively easy and automatic, and seeing her actions make Andrea melt had lit a fire in her in a way she’d never experienced before. It was like how she’d felt with Suki - the confidence, the assertiveness - but even stronger. She’d felt like the hottest, sexiest woman in the world, and taking control of the situation to comfort Andrea had felt utterly natural. In retrospect, though, she was shocked and mortified by what she’d done. It was totally inappropriate! But the worst part, by far, was how much further she’d wanted to take it. Priyanka blushed at the thought of some of the ideas that had flitted through her head. What was strange was, in the moment, she half-believed that Andrea would have gone along with them.
Deliberately interrupting her own train of thought, Priyanka pushed off from the wall and started heading back over to her desk. She wanted nothing more than to distract herself from what she’d just done, and fortunately, she had a lot of work to bury herself in - especially after the promise she’d made to Andrea. That was something else she’d been swept up in, and now she was keenly aware that it was pretty much the exact opposite outcome to the one she’d been looking for when she’d headed in to see Andrea. She couldn’t bring herself to go back, though. What if she ended up doing something even worse? And moreover, she wasn’t sure she could bring herself to do that to Andrea. The poor girl hadn’t seemed like her usual self at all. She’d looked heartbroken when Priyanka had told her how behind schedule they were. One way or another, Priyanka decided, she was going to have to fix things herself. The big problem was, she could only think of one way to do that: Ted. Even with Suki working, they needed another pair of hands if they were to pick up all the slack and hit their deadline. Ted was probably the only one available, and he was nominally part of their team. The only problem was, he was sure to see it as not his problem, and Priyanka knew telling him otherwise was going to be an uphill battle. He intimidated her, and judging from earlier that morning, he was in as foul a mood as ever. Priyanka was going to have to work up some courage before going to talk to him. But perhaps, she thought, whatever was affecting her would give her a hand with that.
Priyanka sat down at her desk, intending to get a little light work done as she figured out how to approach Ted. However, she quickly found herself distracted. What was happening to her? She needed to get to the bottom of it. Once, with Suki, could be dismissed. Twice, with Andrea, couldn’t. That was a pattern - a confusing and potentially dangerous one. It was all so unlike her. Was it work stress getting to her? The problem with that theory was, she hadn’t felt stressed. Not really. In fact, from the first moment she’d woken up in the morning, she’d felt distinctly calm. Normally, stress made her self-esteem fall through the floor. But now, the kinds of negative, accusatory thoughts about her own body that normally swarmed around in her head like flies simply weren’t troubling her. It was more than just strange, it was inexplicable. And as a result, Priyanka couldn’t stop trying to explain it.
Come to think of it, she realized, it wasn’t just her. Andrea had seemed weird too. Really weird. She’d never seen her boss so emotional, or with her hair in such a state. The Andrea she knew would never have melted into her arms that way. Stress was a possibility there too, of course, but that seemed like far too coincidental of an explanation. And it didn’t even touch on some of the weirder details, like the bizarre, puppy-like whimpers Andrea had been making, or the way she’d been shaking her ass in - seemingly - happiness. Andrea had mentioned Zel snapping at her. For the perpetually-demure Zel, that was just as out-of-character as everything else that was bothering Priyanka. That was strike number three. Something was definitely afoot. Or was that too crazy of an assumption? Suddenly, Priyanka was doubting herself. Sudden, inexplicable personality shifts? It sounded more like something out of a TV show than something that could happen in real life.
And yet, the thought kept gnawing at her, proving a constant distraction from her work. After ten minutes spent staring at her screen doing nothing, Priyanka sighed, and decided she needed to satisfy her curiosity so she could get back to being productive. She stood up from her desk, and decided to go and see if anything weird was happening to Zel.
Zel was exactly where Priyanka had expected to find them. What was unexpected was the fact that Misty was there with them. The two of them were huddled together at Zel’s desk, pressed unusually close against one another. That alone was enough to make Priyanka’s brow furrow slightly. The two of them were friends, yes, but it was a little weird for them to be sitting as they were. Priyanka couldn’t imagine what work they could be doing together like that. She pinched herself. Was she really going to assume something suspicious based on nothing more than two friends and colleagues sitting together? Maybe it was paranoia, rather than overconfidence, that she needed to be worried about.
“Hey Zel,” Priyanka said as she approached, offering a casual, friendly wave. “Hey Misty.”
“Oh, hey Pri,” Zel called out in reply, raising their head and looking round, a strange, wolfish grin on their face. “What’s up?”
As ever, the shortening of her name bothered Priyanka, but she didn’t make an issue of it. She had more important things to focus on - most notably, the changes that were immediately obvious in Zel’s appearance. Their hair seemed to be a darker color, but it didn’t look dyed. It was too subtle for that. Their lips looked darker too. Was it lip stain? Or something stranger? Priyanka wasn’t sure. The skeptical voice inside was telling her that it was nothing more than a few aesthetic changes. A mini-makeover. Her gut, though, was telling her something else.
“I was hoping to-” Priyanka began.
“Wait,” Zel interrupted, still grinning. “Misty, aren’t you going to say ‘hi’”?
Unlike Zel, Misty hadn’t turned to greet Priyanka. Instead, the trans girl was hunched uncomfortably over her desk, and at first she seemed almost unresponsive to Zel and Priyanka’s words. Priyanka noticed that she was sweating visibly and seemed to be shivering, but somehow she didn’t look sick. She was also struck by the fact that Misty was wearing a tank top, something she’d never seen on her before. After a moment, as Priyanka watched, Misty managed to raise her head and look round.
“Hi Priyanka,” was all she said. She spoke in a breathy voice, and it sounded like keeping an even tone was a great effort for her. Priyanka frowned. That was definitely weird.
“Right,” Priyanka continued. She already felt awkward. “As I was saying, I was hoping to ask you about Andrea.”
“Andrea?” Zel seemed surprised. “How come?”
“I just talked to her,” Priyanka explained. “And she was acting… well, a little weird. I wanted to know if you’d noticed anything.”
Zel shrugged. “Weird? Not really. I saw her earlier. She was trying to push more work on me. As usual. Bitch.” Zel added that last word under their breath, but Priyanka caught it, and was surprised at the venom in her co-worker’s voice. “Didn’t really notice anything out of the ordinary, though?”
“I see.” Priyanka was quickly coming to the conclusion that there was something going on with Zel, just as there was with her and Andrea. If so, she needed to go and figure out how to deal with it. She started retreating. “Well, thanks, I-”
“Wait,” Zel interrupted again. Their grin widened. “What about you, Misty?”
“Me?” Misty squeaked. She sounded horrified.
“Yeah.” Zel smirked at her knowingly, although Priyanka wasn’t sure what exactly they knew. “Have you noticed anything weird going on with Andrea?”
“U-um,” Misty began uncomfortably. As Misty turned further towards her, Priyanka found herself immediately distracted by the trans girl’s chest. She clearly wasn’t wearing a bra; the indents that her nipples were poking in her tank top made that plainly obvious. Were her breasts bigger? It certainly looked that way to Priyanka, but she wasn’t sure if it was just what Misty was wearing. “No, I haven’t. A-actually I haven’t even- Ah!”
Without warning, Misty let out a little, sharp shriek that sounded strangely like a moan of pleasure. Priyanka peered at her, surprised and confused. Not only was she shivering and sweaty, her face was completely red and she had a weird, unfamiliar expression on her face. Misty too? It certainly seemed so. But what had made her shriek like that? For a brief instant, Priyanka thought she saw something completely obscene: one of Zel’s hands moving around underneath the desk, between Misty’s legs. That set off all kinds of alarm bells.
“I-I h-haven’t e-even seen A-Andrea,” Misty finished desperately, with obvious difficulty. She was panting.
“Right.” Priyanka started backing away. She didn’t know what was going on, but she’d already experienced more than enough weirdness for one day.
Zel laughed sadistically. Priyanka wasn’t sure if the sadism was directed at Misty, or her. It was a very unfamiliar sound, coming out of Zel’s mouth. “See ya.”
Priyanka hurried away as quickly as she thought she could get away with. Now, there was no doubt at all in her mind. Something was very, very weird and very, very wrong. It was as if they were all being changed, somehow. Transformed. Well, not all, Priyanka reflected. Suki and Ted hadn’t seemed any different, as far as she could tell. So far, it seemed to be Andrea, Zel, Misty and herself. But why? How? Priyanka couldn’t fathom what could possibly cause or explain something like this. As she thought, though, she realized that perhaps it wasn’t just the four of them. Perhaps it was five. Five, if she included Sasha. Sasha had been transformed too, from a professional career girl into a bimbo waitress. They’d all taken note of that, at the Omdanne Bakery. Once she got thinking about the bakery, Priyanka remembered the food Sasha had offered them, and the strange spell it seemed to have placed on her. Was that it? Was it the bakery? It sounded absurd, but Priyanka’s gut was telling her that there was something to it. She couldn’t jump to any conclusions, though. She needed to be sure. She needed to talk to Sasha. Sasha would know, if she was working there. Maybe she could explain things.
“Maybe at lunch,” Priyanka murmured to herself. “Gotta go talk to Sasha.”
“Talk to me?” came a familiar, bright, eager voice from behind her. “Wow, I’m, like, right here! How did you know?”
Priyanka wheeled on the spot, her heart suddenly in her throat. She found herself face to face with a beaming Sasha, dressed in the same absurd, skimpy waitress outfit they had seen her in at the bakery.
“W-what are you doing here?” Priyanka demanded.
“Well… since you seemed to like them so much…” Sasha held up a large paper bag, and immediately, the scent of sweet sugar and freshly-baked pastry coming from within made Priyanka’s stomach rumble. “I brought treats!”