She was greeted at the door by a nanny-bot.
"Cherry Smith?" the towering contraption inquired. A pulsing, horizontal line bisected the screen masquerading as the thing’s face, and Cherry found herself staring, curious despite her nerves. The screen was tinted yellow, but otherwise it bore a distinct resemblance to a heart monitor. Cherry wondered about that. She also noted that there was a barcode emblazoned over the thing's right 'hip,' if you wanted to call it that, and what appeared to be a charging socket set into the left. Otherwise, its body was unblemished, nondescript steel, symmetrical in all aspects. "Daughter of Raymond and Sylvia Smith?"
"That's me." Raymond hadn't mentioned that he had enrolled her under a fake name...but then again, he hadn’t said he hadn’t.
The monitor immediately turned a verdant shade of green, and the matron rolled backwards to make room for Cherry to pass. "Come inside," it drawled. Its voice was heavy on reverb and light on personality."You're late."
Cherry felt her skin crawl. People left their kids with these things? They wouldn’t have been out of place in one of those robot-apocalypse movies. "My sincerest apologies, C-3PO."
"It's quite alright, Cherry Smith. Just don't make it a habit."
She winced. “Sarcasm isn’t your strong point, huh?”
“You are incorrect, Cherry Smith. My body is capable of withstanding many kilotons of pressure. I do not have a weak point.” Without further comment, the nanny-bot ushered the bemused little inside with a long, serpentine arm. The door swung shut behind them and audibly locked itself with an ominous snick.
Whatever Cherry had expected out of the daycare's security, the reality far surpassed it. Cameras visibly bedecked every nook and cranny of the lobby, and the baseboards were lined with tiny glowing sensors that presumably blanketed the floor in a grid of invisible lasers. Any progress beyond the lobby was barred by an impossibly thick steel-plate door, complete with a touch pad set into the wall beside it. Cherry's eyes widened at the sight. Had someone really gone to all this effort to secure a daycare? It was like something out of a movie, the kind where the secret service’s operative navigated his way through the super-villain's impenetrable fortress to disarm the all-powerful doomsday device.
There was a distinct lack of doomsday devices, but this was undoubtedly an impenetrable fortress.
I guess you can’t eliminate human error and then have mechanical ones, Cherry mused to herself, drinking up the view. She wondered if all of the nanny-bots had access to those feeds, and figured that they must. The bucket of bolts beside her might even be analysing her from a hundred different angles in a hundred different ways, right then and there. Everything has to be flawless.
It was lucky they had opted to not rescue Dawn from here. They would have been arrested within seconds.
While she was ogling, her companion had crossed to the door and worked the touch pad beside it. The door slid open silently, disappearing into the wall with a hiss that reminded Cherry of sci-fi. "Go sit with the other kids and Ms Bell," the nanny-bot instructed in its toneless drawl, turning back to face her. The very same voice could have been used to discuss changes in the stock market. "And have a wonderful day."
"Ms Daisy Bell. She will care for you while you are on the premises. You will address her as Ms Bell."
Nanny-bot overlord, perhaps? Cherry shrugged. She'd find out in a minute. "Right."
"Have a great day," the robot repeated, and then was she being hurried inside. The door slid shut behind her, and she was standing in the playroom of a daycare for the first time in twenty years.
Cherry's first impression was simply of colour. Everywhere she looked, there was colour. The walls were plastered with crude paintings that spanned the entire colour spectrum, and the plastic tables and chairs sprinkled about the back half of the room echoed the same sentiment. The furniture boasted an assortment of mismatched limbs in what was presumably a deliberate attempt to better emulate the rainbow. Similarly, the front half of the room was just as garish. It had been split down the middle, with the left half being a reading area and the right being a play area, and the bookshelves and toys in each respective quadrant were just as colourful as anything else within eyesight.
The second thing that struck her was the scale of everything. This was a place sized for little children, and for perhaps the first time in her life, Cherry felt right at home. Everything was built with someone of her stature in mind. It was rare to find somewhere so perfectly fitted to her unimpressive build; it was a shame that that somewhere was a daycare.
Cherry's nerves returned to drown her then. This was it. Not only was she about to begin her foray into the world of toddlerhood, she was about to execute phase one of her rescue. She was potentially seconds away from being reunited with her sister. She cautiously looked around for her first port of call, ignoring her heart’s attempt to excavate itself from her chest. In the far corner of the room there was a woman seated on a tall stool amidst a shapeless, sprawling sea of toddlers. They sat cross-legged around her, evidently hanging onto her every word. It looked as good a place to start as any.
Here we go.
"What do we have here?" the lady called in a sing-song voice as Cherry drew closer to the group. Ms Daisy Bell was in her mid to late twenties, with a warm, friendly face beneath a cascading mane of hair that looked as if it hadn't been cut in years. It fell far below her shoulders, almost tickling the jeans she wore beneath her blouse. It was tidy, but long. Rapunzel long. "What's your name, sweetie?"
You can wait, Ms. "Cherry," she responded distractedly, scanning the crowd for the familiar face of her sister. She had told Raymond only minutes before that she wasn't particularly looking forward to this reunion, but now that the time had come, that wasn’t true at all. Suddenly, all she knew was that she needed to see her big sister, to know she was alive and well, to run to her and laugh and cry and tell her everything was going to be alright, that the end was in sight. So what if they were both going to be diapered as she did so? She hadn't seen Dawn in almost a year, and her sister had been through hell since then. Cherry suddenly realised how much pent up anxiety she was carrying. She felt fit to burst.
There were a few small faces turning to examine the newcomer, but none of them belonged to her sister. She realised it was entirely possible Dawn wasn't even here, but she pushed the thought out of her mind as she inspected each individual in turn. It didn’t do to dwell on the negatives. She swept her gaze across the group, searching, searching...
...and finally, she found her.
Dawn had changed drastically since her last visit. The elder Anderson girl had never challenged Sylvia on the vanity scale, but she’d always watched her figure like a hawk. She’d always been happy to divulge that she spent three nights a week at the gym to anyone that asked, and if pressed would then add that the vegetarian diet really wasn't as bad as one might expect. "If it makes me a rabbit," Dawn would say with that grin of hers. "Well, at least I'm a good looking one."
The girl sitting just off to Cherry's right was not a rabbit, and nor was she good looking. She was fat. Grotesquely fat. Months of inactivity had taken their toll, reducing Dawn's curves to something that was best described as spherical. She had multiple chins and a piggish, pudgy face that had long since abandoned the shape it had once been able to boast. Her body had fared little better. She looked fit to burst right out of the enormous overalls she had somehow squeezed into. There was something else about her body that seemed off to Cherry, but as she stood their gaping she couldn't quite pick it. For the time being, it eluded her.
There was no relief in Dawn's face as she made eye contact with her sister. No excitement. Not even embarrassment, which Cherry would have understood. In that fat, bloodless face, there was nothing but fear...and distrust.
"Cherry!" Ms Bell exclaimed brightly, either oblivious to Cherry's confusion or electing to ignore it. The little barely heard her. Something was very, very wrong with her sister. Not only was such a drastic change surely impossible in such a short a period of time (three months), but the look on Dawn's face was one step removed from hostile. What was going on here? "That's such a sweet name! Is this your first day here?"
Cherry tore her gaze away from her sister. She’d get to the bottom of this soon enough. "You know that it is."
Ms Bell beamed. "Welcome to the group, Cherry. My name's Ms Bell, and you're going to make lots of friends here."
Nonplussed by the disinterest in the little's voice, the teacher continued, "We were just finishing up show and tell. We always start the day with it, actually. It's where we get to know each other a little better by showing and telling the group something we did recently. Did you do show and tell at your last daycare?"
Her sister was the size of the blimp and this bimbo wanted to engage in show and tell. Fighting impatience, Cherry offered a simple, "Nope."
It didn’t help to move things along. "Well, there's a first time for everything. Why don't you tell us something about yourself before we all go outside for free play?" the Amazon woman went on cheerfully. "Maybe you have something in common with one of the other girls here!" She gestured at a little girl in the front row, a genuine toddler maybe three years old and cute as a button. The girl giggled at being called upon. "Cindy here likes ponies. Do you like ponies, Cherry?"
"Not in the slightest."
There was no beating that smile into submission. "Oh. Well that's ok too," Ms Bell continued pleasantly. "What do you like, Cherry?"
Being babied by emotionless robots was one thing. Being degraded by another human being was substantially worse. Mortified, irritated and concerned for her sister all at once, Cherry bit back the urge to make a comment that would almost certainly earn her a time out. "I like reading," she said at last. It was all she could think of. "Mystery novels."
Disinterested looks from the littles in the crowd. Confused looks from the actual children who likely didn't know what the word 'mystery' meant. Ms Bell just smiled that same grating smile. "That's impressive, dear," she said. "What else do you like?"
Bruising the shins of tall assholes like you. "That's about it, ma'am."
That infuriating smile faltered slightly. Good. "That's fine, Cherry."
Her interrogation was over. Ms Bell turned to the group at large. "That's it for show and tell, sweet things," she said. "You all have free play outside for a little while."
Finally. Cherry instantly brightened. She was going to be left alone with Dawn, and out of earshot at that? Perfect!
The kids all began to find their feet. Cherry made a beeline for her sister, who looked consumed by dread at the sight of the oncoming imposter of a toddler...
...but it wasn’t to be. Cherry was intercepted by Ms Bell.
"You," the teacher said curtly, taking the little's hand in her own. "Are coming with me. You can play with the rest shortly."
Oh come on.
Her good cheer vanished. Cherry sullenly allowed herself to be dragged away towards the reading area in the wake of her caretaker.
The carpet was littered with bean bags, and it was next to the largest of these that the giantess unhanded her charge. "Now you listen here," the teacher said simply, peering down at the little. All pretence of civility had vanished - suddenly, she was talking nothing but business. "Because this is the only warning you're going to get. We take your kind in all the time, and we expect you to be on your best behaviour. You are sharing this room with real children, and we don't need some uppity dwarf throwing a tantrum and making life difficult for everyone."
Ah, so the smile had been for the kids. Cherry didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. "Yes ma'am.”
"Yes Ms Bell," the woman corrected sternly. "None of this ma'am business. We don't do that here."
She could already tell she wasn’t going to enjoy her stay. Cherry sighed. "Yes, Ms Bell."
"You were a big girl, and now you're not," the teacher concluded with a grim smile. "I don't know if you've accepted that or not yet - I've just met you - but if you haven't, now's the time to do it. Too many of your kind go on and on and on with their rubbish about being an adult, and quite frankly, it gets tiresome after a while. You wouldn't be here if you were fit to be an adult. Someone somewhere decided that that was so, and now it's so. It wasn't my decision. I'm just here to enforce it."
"Now, we have one more matter to attend to before I let you play with the other kids."
Cherry raised an eyebrow. "And what might that be?"
And suddenly there were enormous hands pawing at the buckles of her shortalls.
Startled, Cherry flinched away. "What...what are you doing?" she gasped, staggering back a step. She had a good idea where this was going, but it wasn't on the cards. Nuh uh. "I don't need your help to undress myself, even if I wanted to undress myself."
Some of the woman's previous good cheer returned. "You're new to this," she observed with a small smile.
Cherry said nothing. She crossed her arms and glared up at her caretaker.
"This is a daycare for children aged three to four," Ms Bell continued on a seemingly unrelated tangent. "But we take any and all dwarfs. It puts you lot in your place, and seeing how your kind function in the world is a good learning experience for the children. A hands-on education is the best education, after all."
"Bully for the children. What's your point?"
She didn't react fast enough the second time. Ms Bell's hands were at her shoulders once again, and suddenly she was standing there in just her shirt and her pull-up. Cherry squealed as her shortalls fell away, and her hands flew to her crotch in an attempt to hide her infantile undergarment. Ms Bell was prepared for that, though; the giantess was on her knees in an instant, using one hand to bat away the little's protests and the other to cup the crotch of her underwear.
Cherry could have died. This complete stranger was checking the state of her underwear to see if she'd pissed herself, as if she was some stupid toddler that didn't know any better. Furious, she drew back her arm and slapped the woman flush across the face. The crack echoed through the stillness of the room, ominously quiet now that the kids were outside. "How dare you," Cherry hissed, blushing a dark crimson she hadn’t known was possible. "How dare you. Get the fuck away from me."
Ms Bell straightened up as the little hurriedly re-dressed herself."I'll tell you right now that the next time you do that, you'll be in for the mother of all spankings," the taller woman said flatly. She absently rubbed her cheek, which was turning a shade to match Cherry's. "You're new to all of this, so I'll let you off this one time."
"Your generosity knows no bounds."
"We take all kinds of dwarfs, and some dwarfs need diapers," Daisy said with a shrug. She seemed shockingly unfazed by being struck, and Cherry suddenly realised that that was a miracle in itself. What had she been thinking hitting this woman? She knew not to aggravate giants; she knew it was a bad idea. She didn't doubt that this woman wouldn't hesitate to carry out her threats if she didn’t keep herself under control. "I didn't think you did, but while I was there..."
Cherry fumed silently.
"If you need the potty, you come and ask me," Daisy said finally. "The door's locked. I have the key. Figure it out."
She'd sooner piss in the garden than come begging for help. "Can I go play with the other kids now?" Cherry asked stiffly. She stared resolutely at the ground, refusing to look the giantess in the eye. God, what had she done to deserve that? She wished the sun would devour the Earth. “Ms Bell?”
"You may," Ms Bell responded, equally stiff. She took the little by the hand once more and led her to the door.
As they were walking, the teacher quietly said, "This is the last time I'm going to talk to you on my level, sweetie. From now on, you're no different to any other potty-trainer. Be smart, and I'll be nice. Throw a tantrum like that again, and you'll end up over my knee bare-assed faster than you can blink."
She opened the door and pushed Cherry outside. "Think about it," the giantess added. "This is only as bad as you make it."
Cherry shot a venomous look over her shoulder. "That's easy for you to say," she said darkly. "Why don't you come ask me for help the next time you need to take a leak?"
Daisy didn't grace her with an answer. Without further comment, she shut the door, leaving Cherry outside with a horde of excited toddlers and the creature that was her sister.
Cherry had hoped her sister would be waiting nearby for her to emerge from the playroom, ready to shower her with the love and affection she surely deserved for putting together this ridiculous ruse. She was disappointed on that account. Dawn was nowhere to be found.
She was too busy arranging a game of tag with three Amazonian children.
The outdoor area of the daycare was divided into thirds. The middle was dominated by an enormous sandpit beneath equally large sun-sails, and the right by a generic playground. The open, grassy expanse to Cherry’s left was bare of anything of note, and it was there that she at last made contact with her sister. Dawn was tucked away by the fence line with three girls over twenty years her junior, engaged in a vehement discussion as to who was going to be 'it' first.
"Sis," Cherry said as she trudged up alongside her sister. She cast an incredulous eye over Dawn’s companions. "What the hell?"
Dawn had clearly been expecting her. "Cherry," she said resignedly. Her face was ashen. "You’re the last person I expected to see this morning. What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here?" Cherry echoed. She put her hands on her hips. "What do you think I'm doing here? I'm here to get you out of here."
"And why would I want to get out of here?"
Cherry stared. "Why would you...what do you mean, why would you - "
"How did you even find me?" Dawn snapped, suddenly bristly as a porcupine. Cherry thought her shock couldn't deepen, but a moment later she was proven wrong when her sister physically pushed her away. She stumbled back a step. "How did you know? Cherry, why are you here? She set you up, didn’t she? Didn’t she?"
Cherry had no idea who ‘she’ was. She decided to start from the beginning. "Your letter - "
She was starting to get annoyed. "What letter? What letter do you think? How many letters have you sent me in the last week, huh?"
"I...I don't know what you're talking about," the pudgy little retorted angrily, but for a second, Cherry thought she did. There was a sparkle of recognition somewhere in her eyes, and then it was gone, replaced with a sullen piggishness that did little to improve her complexion. "Letter? I'm a good girl. I don't even know how to write."
"Don’t even know how to...what? Are you crazy? Dawn, you..."
Something had been bugging Cherry since the moment she first laid eyes on her sister, but until then it had eluded her entirely. Something was off about her appearance, and she'd known it straight away, but she hadn't been able to pick it.
Now, in close proximity, it suddenly clicked, and her voice trailed off as she realised her eyes weren't lying to her. Why she hadn't picked it earlier, she could only guess. Maybe it was because it hadn’t seemed all that unusual amidst so many similarly-endowed kids; maybe it was because her sister was simply so big everywhere else now that losing a little bit up top wasn't so noticeable. She didn't know. The reason didn't matter, though - the reality was appalling either way.
Dawn’s breasts were gone.
The blood drained from Cherry's face as she studied her sister's chest. Her tubby sibling was as flat as board where it counted. "Sis, your...boobs..."
Dawn said nothing.
This can't be happening.
Cherry abruptly realised she was close to tears. She'd travelled halfway across the country, for...this? To find her big sister mutilated, morbidly obese and seemingly accepting of her role in life as a toddler? She'd received the letter only four days ago, and presumably it had been written only days before that - how was this even possible? How could she have possibly given up so entirely in such a short period of time? "What happened to you?" she whispered, horrified.
"Are you going to play tag or not?" her big sister said bitterly. Cherry realised that she was as close to tears as she was herself. "I don't want to talk to you unless you're going to play tag."
She tried one last time. "Sis, I don’t know what your - "
Dawn shoved her again, and this time she went sprawling, landing hard on her padded backside in the dirt. Tears began to leak from her eyes as she stared up at the fat girl she’d loved enough to risk a second babyhood. "Go away," Dawn said in a voice thick with emotion. She turned from her sister to her friends, who were watching with interest. They had no grasp of the subtext present, but it was clear to anyone with eyes that this was a dispute to stay out of. "I don't know what she's promised you, and I don't want to know. I’m a good girl, okay? I'm a good girl."
They began their game then, and Cherry watched from the ground as her twenty-six year old sister hurried after a couple of three year olds simply because she was 'it.' The fat little waddled along after the laughing youngsters, and before long they had crossed beyond the sandpit and around the side of the playground. They disappeared out of sight, and Cherry was very suddenly alone.
What...what just happened?
Stunned, hurt and more confused than she could ever remember being, Cherry curled up into a ball and began to cry.