Lori watched the scene in front of her with frozen eyes, through a lens of flowing water. Plastic snowflakes had been sealed inside with her, shifting before her sight. Snowglobe. They'd sealed her inside a giant snowglobe. She should have drowned, except she was now as plastic as the snowflakes were. Unlike a mannequin, however, she was far from oblivious. Her brain and eyes were still aware of every waking moment. Unfortunately, it only made the nightmare worse.
Did Cal get away? He must have, or Plastica would have been torturing her by threatening to hurt him. She'd been close-mouthed about it since last night, when both she and her henchwomen had come back empty-handed. Lori could only deduce he'd escaped. Had he made it back to his apartment? Sought help from the police? Or was he lying dead or dying somewhere in the tangled swamps that surrounded the plant? Please God, anything but that...
Her own future did not look sanguine. Across from her, in front of a velvet curtain, stood the blue-violet mannequin of Blue Cymbidium and the bald, denuded sculpture of Xenon on her stand. To her left, though Lori currently did not see her, was Chrystar in her crystal tomb. All of them had been arranged as if they were samples in a showcase, lit by halogen spotlights from above. Plastica had forklifted them all there earlier that morning. Lori noticed she'd left two empty spaces. She couldn't read the names on the placards before them, but she could imagine what they said. Of Team Paragon, only Scirocco and White Rose were still free.
What does that bitch mean to do to us?
She could only wait, in stasis, the same way her friends were.
She did not wait long. Motion entered the corner of her vision: Iza, the more businesslike and collected of Plastica's two henchwomen. In one hand she held a colorful sheath of papers, brochures or catalogs, it looked like, along with a calculator. She was leading a group of six others, some dressed in suits, others in the wilder garb common to the fashion and retail display industry. When she reached Lori and the others she began to talk, a winning smile on her face, gesturing at their bodies as if they were glittering prizes arranged on a shelf.
Glittering prizes... oh no, not that.
Helplessly she commanded her body to move, her wintry ice blast to come; but nothing happened. She was trapped. And she knew with panicked surety that she, and the others, were being sold.
"I finally found out why our antidote worked," Darlene announced. She tapped ARTIE's latest printout in her hand. "It was Plastica's blood!"
"Holy Corpuscle," Cal muttered, remembering how he'd bitten Plastica on the hand when she'd been holding him hostage in her mannequin factory. "I thought it had a strange taste..."
"You bit her!" Allison said with delight.
"With pleasure," Cal said grimly. It was a good thing he'd had, or Cinnabar wouldn't be walking around now, and he would be as plastic now as the molded office chair he was sitting on.
"Plastica must have been using variations of the same compounds on herself," Darlene mused. "To test them, maybe, or alter her own bone and muscle structure. Traces of them must have been lingering in her blood. So when you bit her, you swallowed some along with your saliva." She chuckled at Cal's expression. "I bet she never dreamed she would help create her own antidote."
"How many doses can you make?" Cinnabar said. Her eyes swept to the clock; it was early afternoon already, and they all knew they didn't have much time before Plastica made her next move.
"ARTIE can make about twelve with the supplies he has right now," Darlene said. "That should be enough for Lori and Shanna, and any other team members who got... who ran into Plastica." Her phrasing was discreet. Neither Gina nor Noelani had returned to HQ; neither had they left messages.
"Good. Do it." Cinnabar said. She still looked affected by her experience, going by her posture and the dark circles under her eyes.
"We'll move on her tonight."
"She'll be on her guard," Allison warned.
"So will we," Cinnabar said. "But we have the advantage. Remember she won't be expecting an antidote." She reached back to put her long auburn hair into a ponytail, the tired gesture belying her confidence. "Allison, I want you to go to the gym after this," she added.
"There's still a chance Gina or Noelani might be there."
"I want to go with you guys," Cal said with determination.
The three superheroines looked at each other. Cal felt his heart sink. "No," Cinnabar said quietly. "It's too dangerous. You'd only be in the way."
"I can wait in the car," he begged. "I can be the driver, the same way Allison was last night. You might need me. To go get help if you run into trouble, if nothing else." The womens' negative expressions remained unchanged. He had to do more to convince them. "Look, it's my fault Lori got captured in the first place! She went out to the factory because of me. And she didn't ask you guys for help because of me. Like it or not, I'm the one at fault. And I want to make up for it. If you tell me no, I'll follow you anyway. You can't stop me."
"No, but your leg can," Cinnabar said.
She was right. He needed crutches to get around on; he wouldn't even be able to use the gas pedal. He was useless. And if the three failed in their mission, that would be his fault too.
"Wait," Darlene said softly. "There is something you can do, Cal..."
Plastica gave a loud sigh of frustration. She'd been watching Cinnabar's penthouse all afternoon but the blinds remained drawn. If the superheroine had been freed Plastica saw no sign of it. Neither had Phanxine, who'd staked out the place from street level. Maybe she should just scale the building and dump a tankful of the plastification gas into the ventilation system. At least that way, she'd be sure. There'd be innocent casualties, of course, but that had never bothered her. The more mannequins, the merrier.
"Hey Boss," Phanxine's voice crackled in her ears, "Take a look. Someone's leaving."
Plastica swept her binoculars to the front of the building. A slim, athletic figure had stepped outside, car keys jangling in her hand. It wasn't Cinnabar, however. It was Allison Cope: White Rose.
So Team Paragon was planning something! "Follow her," Plastica ordered, speaking into the tiny microphone suspended in front of her mouth. "Keep me posted. I'll be right in back of you in the Maserati." She tugged out her earplug and turned from the balcony, grinning at the sight she'd left behind on the bed. The two girls whose house she'd broken into to gain this perch lay tied to the frame and each other, struggling in vain to loose their tautly stretched limbs. Their naked gyrations were most appealing.
"There, there," she said mockingly. "Don't tell me you two aren't enjoying it."
Strangled whimpers were her only answer. They couldn't say anything more; bound as they were in a 69 position, they were effectively gagged by each other's crotches. The girl on top tried to raise her head to look at her but was able only to lift her eyes, which were bright with tears of fear.
"You're welcome," Plastica chortled. She raised her gas gun. "And thank you, for letting me borrow your balcony. But it's time I was leaving."
The girl's eyes grew moister, her throaty protests stronger. Her hips rocked in panic over the face of her friend, no doubt contributing an unholy pleasure to her plight. The girl beneath her remained ignorant of the danger, seeing nothing but her partner's moist, tangled bush.
"Adieu, mon cherie," Plastica crooned. She knew she should leave them there for their roommates to find. But she just couldn't resist...
She pulled the trigger, bathing the two in exploding pink gas. They began humping energetically as the aphrodisiac entered their bloodstreams, fucking for earnest this time. Plastica fucked with them, rubbing her vinyl-clad crotch against the bedpost as their tongues poked and pried. Back and forth. Back. And forth. The buttocks of the girl on top flexed and relaxed in rhythmic motions, alternately hiding and displaying the pink folds of her pussy and its neatly trimmed landing strip. Unable to resist, Plastica inserted her fingers, giving the winking slot a brief reaming of her own. When she removed them the girl beneath took them in her mouth, sucking eagerly on her partner's juices. Plastica chuckled. "Ah-ah-ah, back to business..." she chided, guiding the hungry mouth back to its source of nourishment. Her clit sang an opera against the post as she rubbed, her victims' moans becoming more strangled and bestial. For a moment she was tempted to join them, peeling off her catsuit to ride like a cowboy on that undulating double back...
She slapped the bobbing ass in front of her, leaving one red handprint, then two. The encouragement was appreciated. The blonde gave a muffled scream of ecstasy, buttocks jiggling. Beneath her, her partner's hips jerked in ragged motions, a monosyllabic mantra keening in her throat. Finally, with two ululating screams, the pair reached their climax.
The echoes of the love cry slowly faded as the soft flesh of two grew rigid and hard. They stiffened, shuddering all over like an object in motion suddenly driven to a halt, and frozen there. Then, and only then, did Plastica climax herself: "...aaahhhh!!!..."
Her cry faded to a gasp. She came back into herself, the lovely orgasms still tingling over her skin. Two blank-faced mannequins now lay tied to the bed, trapped forever in a twisted bondage fantasy. She laughed. There was madness in it, yet also an awareness of her nature. No man could ever give her the pleasure her creations did. She could be in danger of losing her freedom, her livelihood, yet still find time to do this, her one joy in life, her purpose for existing...
She blew the plastic duo a mocking kiss, and left them to their fate.
She caught up with Phanxine half an hour later outside the entrance of an exclusive women's gym. The black girl was leaning on her car, arms folded, her eyes glued to the gym's entrance. "Where is she?" Plastica said.
"She's gone inside," Phanxine said, pushing her sunglasses over her forehead. "Her car's over there."
With Allison alone and vulnerable in the building, now was the perfect time to catch her unawares. "Good. We're going in after her." She sculpted her face and flesh into a new guise as a fitness trainer and grabbed the duffelbag she kept in the Maserati's trunk. It contained her plastification apparatus, among other things. With Phanxine playing the role of her client it was no problem to bluff her way into the gym's security room and knock out the single guard who'd been stationed there.
"Find me a map of the building," she ordered, manning the security cameras. Phanxine pulled out the building manuals. In a minute or two the cameras found Allison, and Plastica was able to follow her on-camera progress from room to room.
"She seems to be looking for something," Phanxine commented. "Or someone."
Plastica grunted noncommittally, but that did look like the case. She watched closely as Allison took out her cell phone to make a call. She zoomed in on the lens to check the number. "Fuck!" she spat. "That's the number we found on Arctica last night. She's calling someone back at Cinnabar's place."
"Cinnabar?" Phanxine said. "But she's... How could she have escaped?"
Plastica didn't know, but it had to be true. Who else would Allison be calling? Her heart skipped another beat when the superheroine disappeared through an unmarked doorway. She emerged several minutes later in a towel. Unaware she was being observed, she headed for the sauna.... where she would be trapped.
Eyes slitting in glee, Plastica gave Phanxine her orders, "Go to the steam room and make sure Allison's inside, then lock the door. Make sure no one else follows her." She opened the gym bag, handing Phanxine a gas gun. "If she comes out... you know how to use this."
Phanxine looked dumbfounded at her orders to take down a superheroine, but she did as she was told. When she had left Plastica locked the door to the security room, then climbed up on the desk to unscrew the air duct on the upper part of the wall; with that she would gain access to the false ceiling of the gym. She removed the canister of gas from her bag and pushed it into the duct, climbing after it with the torn plan of the building in her mouth. So good, so far.
Sliding the heavy tank before her, she crawled through the dark, cramped passageways that provided the gym's air circulation. She soon came to the area over the steam room. Using the engineering plan she located the pipe that carried hot steam from the boiler. Working quickly, she clamped the canister's feed valve around it and pierced the metal with the diamond-tipped drill. Now the plastification gas would flow minutely out of the canister and into the steam, mixing with it, disguised by it. By the time anyone in the sauna noticed, it would be too late.
She checked to see if the gas was flowing evenly; it was. She turned the knob up all the way, then slithered back through the duct. Kicking out the next air vent she saw, she jumped down into the corridor where Phanxine waited. "She's in there?"
"Yah; I checked through the window. She's the only one, too."
"Good." Plastica said. Now it was just a matter of time to tell if her gambit had worked.
Five minutes; ten; twenty. The gas canister would be empty by now. Slowly she unlocked the door, turning on the exhaust fan to disperse the steam. In another few seconds, she entered.
Her plan had worked. The plasticized body of the superheroine lay stretched out on a wooden bench, a plain white towel beneath her. The gas must have anesthetized her gradually, causing her to fall into a drowsy languor from which she would never awaken. She'd gone down without a struggle. Indeed, by the serene look on her face, it had been quite peaceful. The state of her nipples indicated it had been pleasurable as well. Plastica flicked each with her fingernail; they were quite rigid. So was the rest of Allison's body... so stiffly regal, she might have been a cartouche atop some Egyptian sarcophagus.
But her experience with Chrystar had taught her a lesson. She stood the plasticized superheroine on her feet and quickly wrapped several lengths of duct tape around her, ensuring she wouldn't be able to move even if she was able to. Phanxine peered in through the fading steam, careful not to breath it in herself. "Shee-it..." she murmured. "She looks like a chess piece."
The comment gave Plastica an idea. "Go get one of those gym mats and wrap it around her. We can carry her out that way with no one the wiser." Phanxine complied, and five minutes later they were sliding their odd-shaped bundle into the back of the van. To an outside observer, it looked like they were moving a rolled-up piece of carpeting.
"What are you gonna do with her, boss?" Phanxine asked. She sounded genuinely curious. "Dump her in the tar pits?"
The awfulness of it gave Plastica goose bumps of pleasure, but she had a different fate planned for the superheroine. "No. She's the last of the bait."
"Easy Cal," Darlene said.
"Sorry," Cal replied as he backed the little robot away from the wall. Ruefully he regarded the beach-ball sized gouge he'd made in the plaster. "Whoa. That's pretty impressive."
"Good thing he's made out of titanium," Darlene quipped. She knocked on Cal's helmet with her knuckles. "Hey. You're sure you're comfortable wearing that thing?"
Call nodded. "Fits like a glove." They'd rigged up the remote-operation system earlier that afternoon, slaving ARTIE's circuits via wireless transmission to the helmet and visor he wore. That way Cal could 'drive' the little robot from the safety of HQ as if he was participating on the mission himself. "Do you think he's insulted because I'm in the driver's seat instead of him?"
"ARTIE? Nah." While ARTIE was intelligent, he lacked the finer human judgment required for a dangerous operation such as the one they were planning, and had been selflessly obedient to his mistress's order to vacate his sensorial and somatic functions. "Let's see how well you can handle the weapons."
Cal moved ARTIE out of the corner, sending him hovering slowly to the center of the floor. In simulation mode he ran through the array: pepper spray, a small caliber gun that fired rubber bullets, a laser. "Guess all those years of video game addiction were worth it," he said.
"You can use his tools as weapons too," Darlene said. "He has a drill, pincers, and a circular saw. The saw can cut through 10-gauge steel." Cal flipped the joysticks at his thumbs, causing each new weapon to pop out of its slot. At least one of the reasons they were taking him along was that he was familiar with Plastica's factory and the dangers it presented. The tools could come in very handy for getting into inaccessible areas. If he got trapped or in close combat, he could use them.
"How long are his batteries good for?"
"Twelve hours, under normal circumstances. But if it's a combat situation, much less. I'd say three, four. That's non-stop action, though. Normally, we wouldn't be sustaining that pace." Darlene went on to say that ARTIE was well armored too, able to withstand a direct from anti-tank fire, though Cal found that a little hard to believe.
The phone rang. Scirocco went to answer it, a tense look on her face. A look that got tenser, and paler, when she picked the receiver. Cal heard a female voice on the other end speaking briefly. Then silence.
Cinnabar looked blank for a second, and terribly lost; then her resolve slammed back. A look of grim determination came over her voice as she hung up the receiver. "That was Plastica," she said quietly. "She's captured Allison."
"What?" Darlene said.
Cinnabar held up her hand, gesturing for silence. "She said she wants me, in return for the other members of the team. If I go willingly into sacrifice, and let her turn me into a sculpture again. She has no intention of keeping the bargain, of course. I'm surprised she even thought I would fall for it. But it means we move out. Now."
Kaylashat the Damned paced restlessly in her library, looking again and again at the marble plinth she'd had her slaves install in the corner. Cinnabar was to have gone there, rotating so Kaylashat could appreciate every inch of her embedded plight. But yesterday, and now today, had passed without the cube's delivery. Calls to the airport at Athens had produced nothing. They'd told her that without a tracking number there was little that could be done.
Kaylashat's lips curved in a sardonic bow. Unless one happened to be a sorceress, of course...
She touched a panel on the wall, causing one section of bookshelves to slide aside. It revealed the dark, narrow passage that led to the hidden rooms where she practiced her magic. None of her household staff knew of the secret. Her slaves did, but they were slaves, and bidden to keep their mouths closed on the matter. Or find themselves in new bodies of marble or bronze, instead of flesh and blood. New bodies frozen into very stimulating positions...
She smiled a puma's smile, navigating the dark, cramped passage with the ease borne through long years of use. Her slaves made the most interesting sculptures. More than one had been presented to a minion of hers as reward for good service. She didn't do it often, though. Transformation magic was very draining for her.
She came to the sealed door at the tunnel's end and placed her palm against the raised metal disk in its center. "Hat'shwa," she commanded.
The door opened. The high-vaulted Sacrificial Chamber before her burst into light. The frescoes glowed with lurid color, the mosaics sparkled. Each depicted a highlight from her reign as Queen. The scenes never failed to stir her blood, even though this room was only a copy of the one from her palace in Bubabis. She'd had to recreate it from a ten thousand-year-old memory, frescoes and fixtures included. But the table of sacrifice in the center of the room was the real thing; she'd had it excavated from the Sahara two years ago. This she now approached, her footsteps stirring the dust. It had been a few months since she'd last had the occasion to use it.
She stood at its head. The worn limestone of its surface was slightly concave, stained a pale brownish color in its center. Kaylashat ran her hand over the depression with loving appreciation. So many victims she'd taken in this spot, their last gurgling breaths given as sacrifices for the glory of their Queen... she remembered the blood, too, barrels of it, that kept herself and her favorites forever young and beautiful, and the royal magic strong. The dull iron taste came again to her mouth, bringing back an awful yearning, a palpable, almost painful wish to see Bubabis rise once again, as it would have if Scirocco hadn't interfered with her original plan eight years ago.
She lifted her hand, taking a deep breath. She began to chant. The words were old as time, older, rising from the misty depths of another age, when the great glaciers were receding and the Sahara was green and lush.
Show me Scirocco, she commanded. Above the table the air began to shimmer; she concentrated on the swirling images, forcing them to solidify. She steeled herself for the delicious sight of the sculpture Plastica had promised her. But the magic did not give her that. Instead, she saw a white-tiled room, a bed, a table with scientific apparatus set upon it. And a painfully familiar figure striding away from her, a long shock of red hair swinging from its head...
The figure turned: Scirocco. And she was not alone.
"NOOO--!" Kaylashat howled. Her enemy was free! Cinnabar was alive; the Powers didn't lie. With that revelation the image broke apart, reverting to mist. In a second, it was sucked down into the table to join with the brown stain that had generated it.
Cursing, she beat against the surface of the stone with her fist. Plastica had tricked her. Perhaps she had never captured Cinnabar at all, and had been toying with her.. mocking her. Had lied to her, to court her favor. But no one made a fool of Kaylashat the Damned.
Her anger faded as quickly as it had begun, leaving cold ashes. She began to consider what she should do about it.