"Day Four," explained Miriam, "is when things get real. The first day, there's some confusion, everything is new, some people treat it as a lark, there's a sense of anticipation and discovery."
Julie thought back four days. The girls had all giggled, embraced their new status, had fun dressing each other and looking in the mirror. "You look adorable!" Sandy had told her.
"You're very cute too," replied Julie, "that pinafore is just darling."
Neither of them had mentioned what was underneath the childish dress. They'd been well briefed from the outset. Five young women, newly graduated and excited at a job opportunity with the secretive company, had travelled to the country house at which it was based.
Miriam had greeted them there, with two other ladies. They'd all been dressed in smart business suits, the professional attire giving them the appearance of authority, immediately supported by their words and actions.
Daphne had met each of them in turn at reception, handed them various forms to complete. "Bring these with you, you can complete them in your room," she'd said. "You'll have a couple of hours to shower, recover from your journey and get these filled in ahead of the reception at 1pm." She'd shown each of the girls their room, given directions to the dining room, and left them with an admonishment to be punctual.
Julie remembered kicking off her shoes, leaping onto a luxurious double bed and looking up at the ornate ceiling, wondering how she'd been accepted for this opportunity. Stripping off the jeans and casual top she'd worn for the journey she enjoyed a quick bath and sat in her dressing gown to go through the forms. Non-disclosure, next of kin, corporate respect policies, a medical form. Nothing that concerned her, certainly not as much as what she should wear for the lunch reception.
In the end she'd risked being too smart. She could take off her jacket, with her skirt and camisole offering a more relaxed presentation; much harder to dress up if she'd been too casual to start. Entering the dining room she found Miriam and Daphne in their severe suits and felt glad she'd dressed to match. They were talking to another lady who left them, came over and introduced herself.
"Hello, you must be Julie. I'm Alice, and over there are Miriam and Daphne."
"Hello Alice, it's nice to meet you," replied Julie, "I met Daphne when I arrived. She was very welcoming."
Alice smiled warmly and gestured to three young women stood chatting together in the corner of the room. "These are your fellow inductees," she said, "why not head over and introduce yourself."
Julie walked over to the other girls. Two of them were in smart work clothes, the third looking under dressed in casual slacks and a wide necked top. As she approached they turned to her and offered quiet welcomes.
"Hi, I'm Jane," said one of the trio, a slim girl with a broad face and coffee coloured skin. "And this is Ellie and Sandy."
Ellie was short but looked feisty, her hair in a tidy bun held secure with ornate wooden hair sticks. She nodded confidently at Julie but was content to stay quiet, letting Sandy speak instead.
"Oh gosh, it's lovely to meet you," enthused Sandy, "isn't this wonderful!"
The other girls smiled at the obvious excitement and let Sandy's happiness remove their own nervousness. Julie realised she should introduce herself too. "Hi, I'm Julie. You're right, this is excellent. I love the house, but I only got here this morning. Have you been here long?"
"Only half an hour ago," explained Sandy, "I haven't even had time to unpack. Hope they wont mind me being under dressed!"
Julie thought quickly and took off her jacket. "Here, put this on. If we're both 'smart casual' you wont look out of place."
Sandy took the jacket and grabbed Julie close, giving her a little too warm a hug. "Oh, thank you!" she wittered, "you're so kind!"
Jane had a jacket on too, which she removed and hung on a nearby chair. "There, now we're the norm," she said. Ellie was wearing a dark dress with no jacket, so just shrugged apologetically at the other three. They smiled back in understanding.
At this point Alice had walked over to join them, bringing with her another woman their own age. "Girls, meet Mia. Now that you're all here, lets have some lunch."
Mia's suit was surprisingly close in design to Alice's, but she smiled at the girls and gave a little wave as they went over to the buffet.
Lunch was quick, the girls chatting about their family, the school they went to, their thoughts about the job they were starting. Miriam, Alice and Daphne joined the conversation but avoided any job related questions. "After lunch," assured Miriam.
Indeed, after eating they moved into another room, soft chairs in a circle, a cosy collaborative set up that put the girls at ease. Miriam offered a formal welcome, then finally started to satisfy their curiosity.
"I know that we've been coy regarding the full extent of the business here at Stork Supplies. You've all joined us with hopes of a strong career in the global export markets, and we'd love you to achieve that with us. Now that you've signed the NDAs we can share with you some detail around the service we offer and the goods we supply to our many global customers.
"Our company name is perhaps a little mischievous: A core element of our business is indeed delivery of babies."
Miriam paused, and looked around the circle. The girls were all listening intently, and looked to be thinking through what they'd just heard.
Julie tried to parse it. Delivering babies seemed weird, did they mean..? She raised her hand.
"Julie, you have a query?" asked Miriam.
"Sorry, you may be about to cover this, but I'm a little confused. You're an export business, rather than midwives. Do you mean we work in the adoption sector?"
Miriam smiled, and nodded. "In a way, yes. But we don't work with children, there are already government and charitable organisations servicing that sector," she clarified, "we offer for adoption babies in their early 20s."
There were gasps around the room at that, and Sandy laughed out loud before blurting, "Babies in their 20s? What? How does that work?"
Miriam stayed quiet and looked at each of the girls in turn, until she was sure she had their attention. "There is a large market out there, people that want a baby of their own, but also a companion, someone that isn't as helpless as a child, and often a sexual partner. We work with that market, understand their needs and meet them."
"But.." exclaimed Mia, "how? Where are these babies coming from? In their 20s? I've never heard of such a thing!"
Miriam nodded, expecting the question. She looked over to Daphne and inclined her head, a clear signal to proceed with something they'd planned. Daphne stood up, some cards in her hand, and distributed them to the girls.
Julie looked at her card. It showed an infant in a baby rocker, short denim dress billowing out at the waist, thick white tights over an obvious diaper. Then she realised the person wearing these things looked her own age, clearly adult features under an infantile haircut. She looked up in confusion, showed her card to Ellie, sat next to her.
Ellie wordlessly revealed the card she was holding back. Julie let out a squeak, unable to stifle her reaction. She hadn't known whether to go 'awww' or 'ewww' at the image on the card, a little boy in denim shortalls, sat with his legs spread on a padded mat, entranced by a cloth covered cube in his hands and with colourful plastic peeking out of the wide leg opening facing her. It was the idealised one year old, except this was clearly a young man, a firm chin, prominent Adam's apple and surprisingly muscular arms.
"Ah, Simon," said Alice, seeing the card Julie had reacted to, "we had a bit of a bidding war for him."
Miriam glared quickly at Alice before continuing. "As you can see, we can indeed source some lovely babies for our customers. Finding them can be a challenge, and is indeed our largest expense." She outlined some of their acquisition routes; suicide hotlines, personals adverts, online fetish forums and other places that people desperate for a new or changed life frequent.
"Our selection process is very careful," she said, "we want to find people that will embrace an infants life, cherish the care they receive, welcome their lack of autonomy and accept the discipline a child needs when it transgresses boundaries. It's important that the baby adapts to its new life, but also very important that it will be well cared for and loved in its new home.
"In that regard we're very much like an adoption agency," she said, looking back at Julie, who nodded thoughtfully. Were there really that many people willing to abandon their adult life and go to live as a child in diapers? She looked back at the card in her hand, and blushed, embarrassed at her naivety. Of course there were, she was looking at one now.
Jane caught Miriam's eye, waited for acknowledgement and asked a question of her own. "Where do we fit in? Are we working on the supply side, handling logistics, engaging the customers?", she asked, "I can see some interesting challenges across all of those."
Miriam smiled, clearly happy with the question. "We want our teams to be skilled across the whole business," she said, "so you'll spend some time in each of those areas, as well as the back office and support functions. Accounting isn't fun but financial management is a core skill you'll need to master."
Julie panicked inside at this, and it showed on her face. Alice noticed but said nothing, and none of the girls realised she was noting down everybody's reactions as Miriam spoke. Mia and Ellie hadn't responded, Sandy had also looked a little worried and Jane had shrugged as though this wasn't news to her.
Miriam continued, "We expect that you'll find some roles more rewarding than others, and over time you'll want to focus on a specialism. That's great, and we'll support you with this, but you'll be stronger with the broad experience you'll gain up front."
With that she handed over to Daphne, who spent the next half hour sharing mundane information. Corporate structure, holiday and sickness procedures, payroll and associated benefits, the various reporting activities. Another half hour presented by Alice covered their core business process, including identifying candidates for babies and those that want them and the cross-sell opportunities around adult sized baby clothes and furniture.
After a comfort break and a pause for coffee (or in Sandy's case, a glass of orange juice - Julie wasn't sure where that had come from) they reconvened and Mia asked a pointed question. "How do you turn an adult into a baby? What if they don't like it? Talk me through the process."
Miriam looked at her calmly before answering, "Perfect timing Mia, that's exactly our next agenda item. We've developed and continue to refine a several week process that helps adults transition into the baby they want to be. It includes various checks and balances to assure their comfort and happiness, and I'm delighted to say that we get very few drop outs."
"Rather than explain it in detail today though, we'd like to start you all on our induction week. This will give you a chance to understand the process first hand, and learn more about the techniques we use, how they work and your role in them."
"First hand?" asked Sandy, "We're going to work with babies in our first week?"
Miriam laughed and looked around at the girls. "Not quite," she said, "You're going to experience our first week of baby training yourselves."