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Working for a Body Upgrade

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Sometimes a minion doesn't want money from the Mad Scientist or Evil Sorcerer they call "Boss". Rather, they want to become the subject of the employer's transformation techniques. Perhaps the employee is disabled or ill, and wants to be strong and fit. Possibly they're wanted by the law or by deadly enemies, and need a new face to escape pursuers (or enough power to fight back). Could be that the employer's exclusive brand of augmentation is superior to anything a cyborg-wannabe could acquire elsewhere. Possibly the minion is in the market for a Gender Bender in a world without sex-change operations. Or maybe they're just butt-ugly and want to be a Chick Magnet. Whatever the motive, the result is that they hire on with someone who can offer (or at least claims to offer) a chance to acquire the body of their dreams.

Not exclusive to villainous employers, but good examples aren't often seen, probably due to audiences' expectations of Transhuman Treachery by anyone so altered. A common motivation for The Igor or the Vampire Vannabe. Generally this leads to You Have Outlived Your Usefulness and Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves as often as it does to the promised upgrade. Compare Indentured Servitude and Saved by the Phlebotinum. For the more mundane version, see Signed Up for the Dental. Any Real Life examples should go there as well.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This was part of Griffith's reason for accepting the call to Sacrifice in Berserk. After spending a year being put to the torture for screwing around with the King's daughter and being reduced to a mere shadow of what he used to be, Griffith wanted more than anything to take back what he lost and be free to pursue his dream once more, even if it meant sacrificing his entire army to the demons. He even specifically requests wings from The Idea of Evil, a request it grants when Griffith is reborn as Femto, the fifth member of the Godhand.
  • Cassian from Count Cain works for Delilah because he never physically grew past eight or so, and their Mad Science experiments are the best hope he has going for finally getting an adult body. Doctor Disraeli, his superior in the organization, does eventually transplant his brain into an adult body, but no thanks to Delilah except in that it introduced them.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
  • In Hellsing, the Nazi old guard supported and funded the Major hoping he would turn them into immortal vampires. They eventually grow so frustrated when he doesn't do this that one of them starts caning him in full view of the Major's loyal subordinates. It doesn't end well for them.
  • In Hollow Fields, the teachers of the eponymous school are working so they can have new bodies.
  • In Speed Grapher, Suitengu transforms several people into Euphorics, and in some cases it's indicated or implied that, in exchange for the transformation, they would do him a favor by serving as minions whenever called upon.
  • In every version of Ghost in the Shell, the Major states that access to the very expensive state of the art cybernetics is one of her job's perks she enjoys the most. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the barman the team occasionally bribe to leak information for them sells them out because he's desperate for money to pay off what he owes on his cybernetic body (although he's willing to leak the information they slipped to him anyway).

    Comic Books 
  • In Astonishing Ant-Man, Cassie Lang ends up making such a deal in issue #6 as part of a potential Face–Heel Turn. Cassie was resurrected shortly before the start of the comic but came back without her size-shifting powers, ending her superhero career. She goes to the villain the Power Broker (the second one) who offers an App for supervillain recruiting and can provide clients with superpowers. Initially, she expresses interest in becoming a supervillain in exchange for having her powers restored, but the Power Broker sees through that and reveals that her father had kept secret from her the fact that she had been kidnapped by old enemy Darren Cross, who had made a new attempt to steal her heart. Since Cross had also robbed the Power Broker, he then offers a supposedly no-strings-attached deal to give Cassie her powers back in exchange for going after Cross (which she wants to do anyway).
  • Komodo from Avengers: The Initiative figured out how to create a version of Curt Connor's Lizard serum that didn't give her a split personality. She is conscripted into the Initiative on the threat of being deprived of the serum. This is especially distressing to her because she's a paraplegic without it (being in Lizard form regenerates her legs).
  • Subverted in Camelot 3000, in which Morgan la Fay tempts Tristan to betray Merlin in exchange for being transformed from a female reincarnation to male. Tristan never gets the chance because Kay betrays Merlin first; in any case, s/he had been planning to kill Morgan as soon as the transformation spell was applied.
  • Tyldak in ElfQuest works for Winnowill because she promised to give him wings. She did make good on her promise, on the condition that he kept working for her.
  • One Judge Dredd strip showed that the many of Mega City One's Olympic athletes receive cybernetic upgrades and performance enhancing drugs from sponsors in return for performing well.
  • Spider-Man supporting character Flash Thompson lost his legs fighting in Iraq and was offered a deal to become an operative: he would get to wear a symbiote for missions, during which time his legs would be restored, but he wouldn't get to wear the suit at other times, in an effort to stop it from bonding with him. He's the most heroic Venom so far, although he has a little problem with eating his enemies when he loses his temper.
  • The origin story for the Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Overdrive in The Superior Foes of Spider-Man reveals that he received his powers and became a villain because of this. Overdrive was/is a huge superhero fanboy but after unsuccessfully trying to get powers by replicating an origin story (i.e., getting bitten by a radioactive spider), he decided to pursue his other interest of race car driving. Following an accident, he was visited in the hospital by the villain Mr. Negative who offered him superpowers in exchange for working for Negative (and owing him a debt for his powers). Overdrive agreed, having the idea of starting out as a supervillain so that later on he could invoke a Heel–Face Turn (he actually uses the term "face turn") and be welcomed with open arms by the Avengers and Spider-Man.

    Comic Strips 
  • Prince Raffendorf from SnarfQuest parted company with Snarf when he opted to work for Geezel and Etheah for a year, in exchange for them transforming him from a giant humanoid rat back into a human.

    Fan Works 
  • One of the ways to live past puberty in Left Beyond is to sign up with the Omega AI, who will turn you into a cyborg and let you live a mostly normal life until it's time to deploy for a terror mission. The main other way is to declare your allegiance to the tyrannical God of the setting.

    Film — Animation 
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), Tempest Shadow works for the Storm King because he promised to heal her broken horn in exchange for her aid in conquering Equestria. She turns on him when he gloats that he had no intention of living up to his end of the deal.
  • In The Transformers: The Movie, Unicron summoned the dying Megatron and offered him a deal: destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership for him and in return Unicron would provide Megatron with a new body and new troops to command. Megatron had the guts to ask for more, which annoyed Unicron. Megatron quickly accepted the deal once it became clear that his options were "serve Unicron" or "be eaten by Unicron". Unicron then proceeded to upgrade Megatron into Galvatron.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Avatar, Jake is promised the chance to restore his human body's legs if he works for the mining company to persuade the Na'vi to move. Double subverted in that he does acquire a new body, but via a completely different route.
  • In Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The mute, simple-minded assistant Groton, and the Depraved Dwarf Grazbo, are both working for Dr. Durea in the hopes that the serum he is developing will cure their conditions.
  • In The Freakmaker, the physically powerful but deformed Lynch (who used to be a freak show act billed as 'The World's Ugliest Man') acts as The Igor to Professor Nolter in exchange for Nolter curing his deformities.
  • Daniel, the hunchback in 1944's House of Frankenstein, worked for an evil doctor who's promised to give him a new, straight-spined body.
  • In Iron Man 3, the Vice-President seems to be working like this on his young daughter's behalf, as she is disabled and Extremis's tests on amputee veterans show it has at least the raw potential to regenerate healthy limbs.
  • Johnny Mnemonic:
    • The street preacher accepts contract killing offers in exchange for money so he can afford to replace his organic body parts with cybernetic ones.
    • Inverted, while Johnny's motivations are established in the opening scenes. Johnny signs on for the courier assignment in Beijing because he needs the money to have his own brain implant removed.
  • In Lady Frankenstein, one of the benefits Marshall gets for going along with Tanya's scheme is having his brain transplanted into a young, healthy and virile body.
  • In The Man Who Changed His Mind, Clayton works as The Igor to Dr. Laurience in exchange for having his mind swapped from his wheelchair-bound form into a young healthy body one Laurience succeeds.
  • An old Bela Lugosi movie, The Raven (1935), had Lugosi as a mad surgeon who was approached by a dangerous drifter. The drifter said that maybe if he wasn't ugly, he wouldn't have been forced into a life of crime, "so could you please alter my face?" Lugosi's character responds by actually making the guy even uglier, just to use as leverage and to keep him as a personal servant. Make-your-own-Igor!
  • In Repo! The Genetic Opera Blind Mag was given the option of working off her eye implants by acting as GeneCo's spokeswoman. Of course, when she decided to quit they killed her just like everyone else who missed a payment, but as a last act of spite, she put out her new eyes to deny them to GeneCo.
  • In The Revenge of Frankenstein, the hunchback Karl helps Dr. Frankenstein escape the guillotine and acts as The Igor for him in exchange for having his brain transplanted into a normal (and handsome) body constructed for him by the doctor.

  • In Animorphs, Taylor was a popular teenage girl who was disfigured and disabled in a fire; she was also the daughter of somebody important, so the Yeerks, wanting to use her as a stepping stone to her mother, offered to fix her in exchange for being infested. They kept their word: as a Controller, Taylor is once again beautiful and has a cyborg arm to replace the one that she lost.
  • The Company also likes to have its personnel play the role of Mysterious Backer and recruit operatives through various perks. The immortal cyborg operatives of The Company are usually recruited as young children in a precarious situation (e.g. prisoner of the Inquisition) and are offered immediate rescue and immortal life in an eventual utopia, which they will bring about by their supposedly righteous labors over the centuries. The Company's Victorian offshoot/cover organization "The Gentlemen’s Speculative Society" mostly just outfits normal people with Schizo Tech, but Mrs. Corvey, who works as a Madame and Information Broker, was recruited as a blind, syphilitic prostitute and in exchange for working for the Society, was cured of the venereal disease and given Electronic Eyes.
  • Special Circumstances agents in The Culture are often augmented far and above the "standard" bodily augmentations of the rest of the citizens of the Culture, and the Culture also offers the "standard" perks for mercenaries from other civilizations:
    • In Use of Weapons, the anti-hero mercenary Cheradenine Zakalwe does jobs for the Culture in exchange for payments which generally include both cash and body upgrades/rejuvenation treatments. In the novel's coda, Zakalwe's Handler recruits a soldier (ambiguously framed as his "replacement") who lost both of his legs in combat, and the implication is that his employment with the Culture will include new legs.
    • Djan Seriy Anaplian in the novel Matter is an outsider turned Culture citizen and operative, and besides the standard perks, has a cocktail of augmentations including programmed combat subroutines, "laser" fingernails and an antimatter bomb implanted in her brain.
  • The Dresden Files: In Changes, Harry agrees to become Queen Mab's Winter Knight in exchange for having his broken back repaired, so he can rescue his daughter from the Red Court.
  • In the Forgotten Realms novel Pool of Radiance, a half-orc assassin works for the story's big bad at least partly in exchange for her heart's desire — a proper human nose. She never gets her wish because she gets herself promptly killed attacking the protagonists after an attempt at "negotiation" goes poorly.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Wormtail cuts off his own hand during the ritual to resurrect Lord Voldemort under the pretense that his master will reimburse him with a superior limb. He is given a stronger silver hand, but it's also programmed to strangle him if he betrays Voldemort.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space: The Ringworld Engineers has a variant where the body upgrade is provided before the price is collected. Chmeee is rejuvenated with a hitherto-unknown Longevity Treatment for kzinti, leaving him physically much younger and erasing his old scars. This leaves him with the problem of proving that the treatment exists so that he can prove that he's really Chmeee (and thus keep his property and status) when he returns home.
  • In Lonely Werewolf Girl, the Big Bad, Sarapen, has a servant called Madrigal who has been promised a werewolf upgrade if he serves Sarapen well enough. Sadly, since werewolves in this verse are born, not made, all he does is outlive his usefulness.
  • Neuromancer:
    • Case agrees to work for Armitage in return for having the nerve damage that prevents him from accessing cyberspace corrected. Once he gets the fixes he needs, he gets press-ganged into continuing to work for Armitage in order to get the antidote for the poison sacs bonded to his rebuilt organs.
    • Molly once worked as a prostitute in order to get enough money for her finger blades, ocular implants, boosted reflexes, and her other cybernetics. However, her "razorgirl" mods started interfering with the implant that put her in a sleepwalking-like state while working and she started to remember her sessions, in particular being forced to do snuff scenes, eventually the implant failed entirely and she killed her pimp.
  • In the Rivers of London series, Lesley May pulls a Face–Heel Turn and goes to work for the Big Bad in exchange for having her damaged face repaired magically.
  • In the Secret Histories novels, some of the rogue Droods return to the family in hope of getting their lost torcs replaced.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger, Pog the bat works for Clothahump because he's in love with a falcon and wants the turtle wizard to transform him into one. This is one of the rare good examples: Clothahump both intends to follow through eventually and has the competence to do the (expensive and tricky) job properly, and is providing the same kind of education and "character-building" hard work to his young indentured servant that he'd give to an actual apprentice.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Ciaphas Cain has a Forge World where the climate is particularly harsh due to millennia of pollution, where even augmented individuals only last a few hours (however, working in surface conditions is quite sought-after as the salary is effectively triple). The Tithe Worker's Survival Guide claims that "your supervisor will be happy to explain the procedure for repaying the cost of such enhancements".
  • In The Year of Rogue Dragons, most of Sammaster's dragon minions work for the promise of being made into dracoliches, which would make them super-powerful and also immune to the Rage.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

  • In a comedic Italian TV Series, an ugly gardener decides to work for the villain of the week in exchange for a plastic surgery to become handsome.

By Series:

  • In Altered Carbon, Bancroft hires a married couple to fight to the death for his amusement, promising a sleeve upgrade for the winner and a downgrade for the loser. When Kovacs interferes Bancroft shoves him into the arena and changes the terms to upgrades for both if they kill him. They fail, but Kovacs gives them his "winnings".
  • Doctor Who:
    • Condo, The Igor to Mad Scientist Solon in "The Brain of Morbius", has been promised a new, complete body. Most specifically, he wants his missing arm replaced by Solon. When he finds out that Solon actually stole his arm to create Morbius' body, he goes mad with rage and attacks Solon, which ultimately helps the Doctor defeat Solon and Morbius both.
    • In "The Five Doctors", the Time Lord high council offers the Master a new series of regenerations if he will rescue the Doctor from the Death Zone. Subverted twice in that Borusa, head of the Council, doesn't actually want the Doctor rescued, and the Master only accepts the mission as an excuse to obtain true immortality from the heart of the Zone.
  • In Fringe, the writing machine storekeeper does this, in exchange for a cure to his legs' paralysis. The paraplegic subjects of the floating experiments likewise agree to steal rare metals to support the researcher's work, which grants them mobility.
  • On Gotham, once Butch regains his memories and ceases to be Solomon Grundy, he reluctantly agrees to be muscle for Penguin in return for Cobblepot's help in finding Hugo Strange, whom he hopes can make him a normal human again. It works, but Oswald shoots Butch dead immediately after he's restored, to make Tabitha suffer the same grief Penguin felt when she murdered his mom.
  • Halfway through Power Rangers S.P.D., we find out that Mora, a Bratty Half-Pint that can create monsters for Emperor Gruum, is actually an adult. She works for Gruum because she likes being a child and he's able to turn her physically into one again. This is revealed to us when he turns her back into an adult as punishment.
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise, members of the Suliban Cabal receive genetic enhancements as payment for completing missions. Normal Suliban cannot shapeshift, cling to the ceiling, see into an extended spectrum, or squish themselves under doors, while most of the members of the Cabal can.
  • This is the motivation for becoming a familiar in What We Do in the Shadows (2019) - serve them faithfully, and they will turn you into a vampire. If they remember, or are properly motivated, before you die of old age, that is. It's implied this is a fairly uncommon event, because most vampires are jerks.
  • In Years and Years, Bethany takes a job in the civil service solely for this, as she is interested in becoming transhuman.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Eclipse Phase many people escaped the Fall by uploading themselves to other planets or habitats, but a lot of them were unable to purchase new morphs and are still bodiless "infomorphs". The Hypercorps often take advantage of these "infugees" with indentured labor contracts promising them bodies after so many years of work (usually just a cheap synthmorph or splicer).
  • Liliana Vess of Magic: The Gathering was a pre-Mending planeswalker. When the Mending happened and had her powers nerfed, the one she most missed was her immortality. She eventually made Deals with Four Devils to keep her youth and beauty, but in exchange she had to serve them. Her long term plan is to pull a Faustian Rebellion to kill the demons and stay free while keeping the immortality.
  • In the Ravenloft adventure From the Shadows, it's the player characters who act out this trope, as they're reduced to disembodied heads imprisoned in Azalin's laboratory and have no choice but to do his dirty work if they're to get their bodies back.
  • Some of the shadowrunners in Shadowrun products have worked for corporations, on or off the books, in exchange for installations of cyberware they couldn't otherwise afford or gain access to. It's also a common reward for missions.
  • Many elebrians in Starfinder go into indentured servitude to fund the cost of their own reanimation as undead Corpsefolk that aren't bothered by their homeworld's current lack of atmosphere.
  • The Dark Eldar Haemonculi of Warhammer 40,000 have the means and expertise to modify their clients' bodies considerably, the most obvious being the Scourge (a Dark Eldar turned into a functional Winged Humanoid via hollowed bones, grafted flight muscles and enormous wings). There are also Wracks, Dark Eldar who willingly have themselves turned into gigantic Frankensteinian monstrosities in the hopes of new experiences.

    Video Games 
  • The earlier Armored Core games play with this trope with the "Human+" mechanic. If you go too far into debt, your character is "volunteered" into Human+ experiments, giving them a new lease on life and an increasing number of perks, like being able to fire heavy weapons without crouching. While there are no in-game penalties other than it being irreversible and considered cheating by most players, occasionally you'll encounter another Human+ subject in a mission who wasn't so lucky. In a way, you're working to avoid this fate.
  • In Baten Kaitos Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean main character Kalas has been working with the Big Bad from the very beginning so that he can use the power of Malpercio sealed within the End Magnus to give himself a second wing.
  • Many splicers in BioShock work for Andrew Ryan or Frank Fontaine in exchange for ADAM that will allow their continued genetic modification.
  • In the first Deus Ex, the two early-generation cyborgs Hermann and Anna are implied to ignore their boss' corruption because he's the only one who can provide them with continuous upgrades to prevent their being scrapped for obsolescence.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, quite a few people are implied to work in order to get augmentations. Workers on Hugh Darrow's Panchea project are directly stated to have been augmented with money out of Darrow's pocket so they can survive in the deep sea working conditions and be more productive. Jensen, on the other hand, is a twist: he never intended to get augmented, but apparently his contract allowed Sarif to load him up with every aug in their catalog after he almost dies in the intro.
  • Inversions are common, too. In Killer Instinct, Sabrewulf enters the tournament in hopes of finding a cure for his lycanthropy so that he can become human again.
  • Seemingly most of the Imperfects in Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, as their patron gives all of them some kind of bio-enhancement.
  • In Mass Effect 2, it is stated that the heretic geth are working for the Reapers because they were promised a Reaper body as a collective platform.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: The kett work in exchange for Exaltation, where the rank-n-file get genetic enhancements. In theory, at any rate. The Archon has been hoarding any enhancements for himself, something his immediate underling is pretty unhappy about.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has Raiden working for a private contractor. They make it clear that the upgraded cyborg body he gets after the prologue is company property. However, when he goes rogue to stop a conspiracy that will turn children into super-soldiers, his support staff isn't too concerned about getting his body back. They even help him with his attempts to do so - off the record, of course.
  • In Starcraft II Legacy Of The Void, the Tal'darim faction of the Protoss worship and serve the Big Bad because he promised to turn them into Hybrids. The Tal'darim Alarak is very pissed off when he realizes the promised Ascension is a lie since Amon plans to simply wipe out the Tal'darim once he no longer needs them and joins Artanis' forces so he can help bring down his former god.
  • The hacker protagonist of System Shock is hired to hack into a complex artificial intelligence system as a Boxed Crook; however, an additional motivation for him is receiving a military-grade neural implant.
  • At the ending of Matt Cordell's storyline in Terrordrome the Game: Rise of the Boogeymen, it is revealed that he was searching for Herbert West so that he can build him a new, healthier body. West agrees to do it, and Cordell starts working for him, collecting material for his research.

  • In Girl Genius, the captured (beheaded!) general of an invading army agrees to work for Klaus for, among other things, a new body and a brass plate that says ABOMINATION OF SCIENCE! His enthusiasm stems largely from the fact that, being legally dead, he's now free of his marriage to his hated wife and any responsibility to his hated children.
  • In Keychain of Creation, an alchemical exalt had taken control of a town and this is now the common goal of its citizens, either through government service or just paying for them.
  • Completely voluntary and benign version in Questionable Content. Marigold buys her AnthroPC, Momo, an expensive new chassis. And upon hearing how much it cost Momo offers to get a job to pay it back.
  • In S.S.D.D. Robert had an eye condition that would have rendered him blind by thirty, and fixing it would have cost his college fund. But the CORE would give him brand new eyes for free if he enlisted. They also claimed they would give him natural-looking eyes, instead of the jet-black ones they gave him that scare children, by the time his term was up, but they never followed through on that little detail.

    Web Original 
  • In Mortasheen, humans are considered to be (barely) sapient vermin, not even worth eating. They only manage to survive the Polluted Wasteland Earth has become by living in an ancient motor pool loaded with futuristic Tank Goodness and guarded by a huge robot army, fittingly called "Tank-Town." Humans who wander into the monster-haunted, toxic, irradiated Forbidden Zone that constitutes the titular city consider it a step up to be spliced with bug DNA or have their genes messed around with to turn them into a Monster, beholden to a zombie or bug-person.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Wonder Man works for the villains because without the Enchantress' magic, he would have dissolved, and he's promised that his loyalty will be rewarded by making him human again.
  • In Batman Beyond, Inque — a sort of liquid shapeshifter — is released and assisted by the man who was supposed to be guarding her. In return he wants to be turned into a being like her. Inque not being the world's most trustworthy person, she agrees... but only gives him half the treatment, turning him into a formless blob with no ability to move.
  • Inverted in The Spectacular Spider-Man, in which Molten Man was tricked into getting transformed because of a gambling debt and is deliberately given Power Incontinence absent a control that's in the hands of the Green Goblin. The latter forces him to be a criminal with the promise of allowing him to control his powers; if he refuses, he'll naturally be left in his transformed state.
  • In the first season of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the brain-like alien Krang has made a deal with Shredder, wherein Krang provides Shredder with a lot of weapons, while Shredder must give Krang a new body to replace the one he lost. Shredder is more busy dealing with the Turtles, but eventually builds Krang the desired robotic body. (The turtles are able to defeat that as well, but Krang uses it in many later episodes of the series.)
  • In Transformers: Animated, this is how the bounty hunter Lockdown likes to be paid. He's also fond of picking up parts another way in the course of the job.
  • A two-way example in The Transformers: In "Ghost in the Machine", the disembodied Starstream bargains with Unicron's head in exchange for having his original body restored. Unicron demands new eyes and a new body (Cybertron) for himself. Starscream tricks Unicron into giving his early and just runs off with his shiny new body.