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Paragon 13


Paragon vs. Plastica

by Cobalt Jade (

Chapter 13: Checkmate

*Where am I?*

She couldn't move; she couldn't feel. She couldn't see. But she could
hear... faintly... the click of sharp-heeled footsteps, the throb of
distant machinery. And she felt the presence of living minds near her,
though she couldn't communicate with them. Only with Scirocco had she been
able to do that. But she could sense those familiar to her when they were
within telepathic range, and she knew without a doubt they were the missing
members of her team. And that all of them trapped.

Allison made a quick assessment of her situation. The last thing she'd
remembered was going into the steam room at the health club. She'd
stretched out in the comforting heat, intending to spend ten, maybe fifteen
minutes there. But something went wrong. She'd drifted off to sleep in
imperceptible degrees, and regained consciousness in this strange,
paralyzed state. By the nature of the current crisis, it could only be
Plastica's doing. She shuddered at the thought of what the former MIT
plastics expert had done to her while she'd been unconscious.

She took a quick, dispassionate survey of her body; a mental-metabolic
skill she had, useful for physical training or medical emergencies. It was
as she had feared. She was plastic. Since she'd been mannequinized in an
unconscious state, her eyes were closed. She gave a grim mental chuckle.
*Well, that explains that.* How could plastic eyes see, anyway? Or plastic
blood flow, to keep a brain oxygenated and its neurons firing normally? Or
plastic ears hear -

But that was irrelevant. The first order of the day was to send a
message to Cinnabar, as Cinnabar, when in danger of her life, had sent a
message to her.

Swiftly she sent her mental summons. She couldn't communicate with
Cinnabar until she came closer. But even at this range (assuming she and
the others were, indeed, in Plastica's mannequin factory) Cinnabar should
be able to accurately pinpoint their location and take the steps to find
them. It was their only hope.

She made out low conversation at her rear. She felt its vibration more
than heard it, her timpanic membranes being muffled; the voices were
feminine, but she could make out little else. There was laughter. Then
came the sinister scrape of heavy objects being moved, or resettled.

She slammed out her *pings* with renewed vigor, telling herself that
Cinnabar and Darlene would be here soon...


"... and then we should --" Cinnabar stopped talking, a strange
expression coming over her face. Cal thought she was listening to a
distant radio transmission. She held her head still for several long
seconds, listening, then came back to herself with a slight shake of her
auburn-maned head. "Plastica has Allison," she said softly. "In her
factory, she thinks."

"Is she all right?" Darlene asked concernedly. She was driving, her
gloved hands gripped tightly on the wheel.

"No. She's a mannequin, like the others," Cinnabar said. "But unlike
them, she has her telepathic powers." She glanced at the deserted road
ahead of them. The BONDMACHEN MANNEQUINS sign glimmered in the distance,
outlined in lurid pink neon. "Her signal's getting stronger. She's
*there,* I know it."

"Can she tell us exactly where in the factory she is?" Cal said. His
voice sounded tinny through ARTIE's speakers. True to their word Cinnabar
had let him come along, guiding ARTIE through slave/master controls back at
HQ. He was now hovering in the backseat, two tentacular eyes peering over
the headrests at the two women in front.

Cinnabar gave a sigh. "No. When they plasticized her, she had her eyes
closed. She's in the factory and the others are near her, but that's all
she knows."

"Does Plastica know about her telepathy?" Darlene asked. "Maybe she's
using her as a lure."

"No," Cinnabar said. "It was a private power, used only between us.
Not even the other members of the team knew, before I was rescued from the

"So Plastica knows we're coming, but not that we have a way to guide us
in." Darlene mulled it over, a thoughtful look on her face. "Hmm. Seems
like we've got a slight advantage."

Cal wasn't so sure. Though Plastica didn't seem to have many lackies at
her disposal there was also no telling what traps she might have rigged up
inside. Cal carried twelve doses of the chrysteel and mannequin gas
antidotes in a special drawer in ARTIE's side. They had wanted to bring
more, but there had been no time to make them. He also carried a computer
map, downloaded from City Hall, of the factory's physical plant. His
overriding goal was to find Lori if he could, and free her first. Cinnabar
hadn't gone into detail about what Plastica might have done to her; but Cal
had seen the mannequins himself. The realization that Lori was probably
one filled him with white-hot anger.

Too soon they came to the Bondmachen factory and the tangled swamplands
they lay at its rear. Together they stood looking up at it grimly.

"Well, let's go in," Cinnabar said. Darlene agreed.

Stealthily they approached the decaying edifice, climbing a rusted metal
handladder up the building's side. Cal levitated behind them, using all of
ARTIE's sensor array to scan for trouble... the hidden warmth of an
infrared beam, the slow whir of a camera motor. He heard and sensed
nothing, but that didn't mean they weren't being observed. Slowly they
made for a landing about two stories off the ground, near the factory's
middle. A door stood there, which was easily forced; they ducked inside.

They were in a utility corridor of sorts. Cinnabar stood still, cocking
her head for second. "There," she said at last, pointing below her.
"We'll go down those stairs. Darlene, stay behind me. Cal, bring up the
rear, watch in back and above us. Keep looking in the infrared, too. Who
knows what we'll find."

Silently they slipped down the stairs. Both were in full costume,
Darlene in a blue miniskirt with yellow boots, gloves and mask, Cinnabar in
a gleaming silver unitard with a red-orange belt and boots, the same color
as her hair. Their sculpted muscles were taut as springs, yet looked able
to explode into looseness in a second's notice... striking powerfully, but
also with grace and finesse. Lori had been built that way too. Cal had
put it down to her judo classes, not even entertaining, in a playful way,
the truth.

They came a door with a pressure bar and an unlit EXIT sign. Cinnabar
pushed it open gently, peering into the dark.

They saw a large, deserted space: it could have been offices once, or an
employee cafeteria; no way of knowing. By the smell and the dirt it had
been deserted for years. Swiftly they crept through; both Cinnabar and
Darlene donning night vision goggles, smaller and sleeker than the bulky
headsets the military used. A liability in a fight, but for searching,
very useful.

"They might be guarded," Darlene whispered as their boots make
tracemarks in the dust. "Have you thought of that?"

"Yes. But we will have to see." Cinnabar pushed open a second door,
emerging into a larger space, though still not as high as the main part of
the factory was. Girders crisscrossed above them, lost in shadow; to the
left and right, vague banks of machinery. But the eyes of all three were
fixed to the front. A maze of mirrors sparkled there... some still, some
spinning silently. Darlene gave a surprised grunt, and Cinnabar swore
under her breath. It was the carnival maze to end all carnival mazes...
some mirrors were tinted, others plain; more than a few were warped. And
some showed reflections of things that couldn't possibly be there.

"Store display mirrors," Cinnabar said in a low voice. "They must have
been warehoused here for ages, until Plastic thought to make use of them."

"That's right," Plastica said. They looked up; but all they saw was a
speaker grill in the wall. "Hello, Cinnabar. I see you're in good health
after your time in the cube; too bad. I would --" she stopped short. Cal
guessed she'd noticed Darlene and ARTIE; she hadn't been expecting Cinnabar
to have allies.

Darlene folded her arms defiantly, just below her massive-breasted
chest. A shit-eating grin broke out on her face. "Hello yourself, you
silicon-titted bitch."

A barely audible gasp was heard through the speaker. What followed next
was all cold malevolence. "I don't know who you are, *girl,*" Plastica
said menacingly. "But you'll be joining my mannequin collection soon
enough. As will you, Scirocco. Your floating trashcan doesn't impress me

Darlene laughed, showing Plastica she felt unafraid. "He will."

"Oh, I'm trembling in my boots," Plastica said sarcastically.

Cal thought of some choice things to say to her, but Cinnabar broke in.
"I have no intention of being your next art project, Plastica. You'd
better tell Kylasha she's going to be very disappointed."

Darlene's face scrunched up: *Who?* she mouthed. But Cinnabar only
shook her head. "Later," she whispered.

Cinnabar seemed to have struck a sore point. "I will have you no matter
what you intend," Plastica growled. "And if you won't willingly give
yourself to me, I will take you."

Cal heard a faint hiss from the girders. "Run!" he barked. "From
above! It's --"

Both superheroines leapt to the side, Darlene with a backwards
handspring, Cinnabar flying, as a thick-bodied hose fell from the ceiling
spraying pink gas. Cal maneuvered ARTIE to the side of it, using the
robot's levitation rotors to blow it away. The heavy substance was more
mist than gas, and within seconds it had sunk to the floor and disappeared.

An angry noise came from the speaker. "Let's see you try to find your
friends in my Maze, then!" The voice cut off, replaced by distorted
carnival music.

Both superheroines looked at the mirrors. They ran from floor to
ceiling; there would be no flying over. "Let's break them," Darlene said,
raising her fist.

"What if a member of the team had been hidden behind them, or some other
helpless victim?" Cinnabar shook her head. "No -- we'll have to do this
the old-fashioned way. Let's break up and search individually. Allison's
summons is coming from that direction, so they must all be on the other
side. That at least is true."

"Can you communicate with her yet?" Darlene asked hopefully.

"No, I'm still out of range. It only works within twenty or so feet.
But I can feel her thoughts." A look of renewed determination came over her
face. "Let's go. We'll all take different paths, but mark the floor so
you can find a way back." She walked into the shifting mirrors, trailing
the point of her sword along the carpeted floor, where it left a torn
furrow. Cal followed, using a narrow laser beam to likewise burn his path.
They soon lost each other in the shifting surfaces.


*She must have prepared this for days,* Cinnabar thought. There seemed
to hundreds, thousands of mirrors, some static, others rotating or slanting
at odd angles. It soon became impossible to trace her path back by the
mark on the carpet, as the maze itself was slowly shifting. Openings
turned into walls, intersections into corners. Several times she caught
sight of Darlene or ARTIE making their way through the corridors, but in a
turn of a reflective surface, they would vanish. Some of the mirrors were
doors, a slight push giving access to another section of the maze. After
many long minutes it became clear that no matter how simple the maze looked
from outside, it would not be easy going. To add to the danger, she was
always aware the mannequin gas could suddenly come spraying out from the
ceiling or floor.

Plastica employed other sorts of trickery as well. Several times
Cinnabar was caught unaware by a gun-wielding assailant who appeared around
a corner... and disappeared again, just as completely. None of the
assailants were Iza, Tiger or Phanxine, so well described by Cal, so she
surmised they were holograms designed to mislead her. Worse yet, some of
the reflections were real... mannequinized humans placed there by
Plastica, to fool them into making attacks. Cinnabar was not fooled,
however. The waxy sheen of the skin was a dead giveaway every time, even
in a reflection. She prayed Darlene and ARTIE would think twice, too.

"Having fun?" Plastica mocked. Her voice trailed away into echoes of

*Bitch,* Cinnabar thought. She hadn't given any thought to what she
would do to Plastica when she caught her. But a mummy-wrap spa treatment
in her chrysteel solution sounded good.

She pushed on, holding Sabreglass before her. Allison's pulses varied
in intensity at every twist and turn. She might have been walking for
hours in a circle in the center, and never know it. She stopped, briefly
regarding the floor. It had been scored and re-scored throughout her
journey. *Maybe I should go under the maze?*

Then she saw Shana.

It was only for a second. She had been mounted on a mannequin stand,
arms and legs splayed in a giant X; then the reflection revolved away. But
it was Shana, she was sure, and she went in the same direction, surprised
in turn by another: a giant snowglobe, a pale blue figure suspended within:
Lori! Cinnabar rushed to the mirror, but the walls revolved again, sealing
her off. Cursing, she slammed her fists on the unresponsive surface. With
that she sensed it was more than a mere mirror; titanium was behind it, and
sophisticated projection circuitry.

|| Cinnabar? ||

The voice was faint, wispy; but it was Allison's. She was very near

|| I'm here, || she said. || Very close. Plastica has me trapped in a
maze of mirrors. ||

|| Let me guide you. ||

|| You already are, but the maze isn't cooperating. I'm going to have
to go through. ||

She trailed her fingers along the silver wall, trying to find a weak
spot. There. She took a breath, and backed up for a running start.
Raising her sword, she whirled it before her, forming a high-speed sonic
shield. With an echoing cry she went into the glass wall, and went through
it, in a blizzard of shards...

... and found herself on the other side. She blinked. She was in a
sleekly decorated showroom for a high-end mannequin manufacturer, complete
with Italian furniture and exotic potted plants. Halogen spotlights shone
down from above. To her side was a reception desk with a computer terminal
on it; in front of her, about twenty feet away, a metallic wall with a logo
than read PLASTIC FANTASTIC in shifting, electric-hued chrome. And to
either side of her, the missing members of Team Paragon.

She wore under her breath at what Plastica had done to her friends.
Shana's humiliation was even worse in person; she looked like she was
gasping in shock at the thick pole that impaled her, but her eyes were wide
and blank. Cinnabar might not have even known her if she hadn't heard
Lori's story of what happened at Sexateria. She wanted to touch Shana,
reassure her; but she dared not. She hadn't wanted anyone's eyes on her
when she'd been Plastica's victim, naked and hog-tied inside the chrysteel
cube. That everyone had to examine her -- and know exactly what had been
to her -- in order to free her was a sexually-tinged shame that would last
for years.

RATED X, read the folded cardboard placard that stood in front of her.
Cinnabar's fists balled in fury.

Next to her knelt Noelani. She had been coated with a thick layer of
shiny purplish plastic and was quite still. Her head was bowed, hair
forming two curtains on either side of her face that pooled thickly on the
floor. Her wrists were bound loosely behind her with a purple rope.
SUBMISSION IN BLUE, read the card. The space beside her was empty.

Cinnabar turned. Across from Shana stood a pyramidal crystal that cast
out rainbows from the light, inside it a vague figure caught in motion.
*Gina?* Cinnabar stepped closer. Gina was in her crystal form,
transparent, as was her prison... not mannequinized, only trapped. But
she was frozen like a fly in amber. IMPRISMED, read the card. Lori was in
a similarly trapped state next to her, poised on one foot inside a giant
glass globe. The youngest member of the team was a frosty bluish-green in
color, dusted with artificial snow. She had probably been caught throwing
one of her iceblasts. Cinnabar's heart sank. *How will we ever get you
out of there?* she thought.

|| Cinn? ||

Allison's voice was as clear as it ever was, but she was no longer flesh
and blood. She stood, regally erect, at the end of the row on a short
platform that was a facsimile of a chess board. She looked to be carved
from solid ivory, a crown formed from a similar material resting on her

|| I'm here, || Cinnabar said, swallowing hard at what had been done to
her, to all of them. || I can see you. ||

|| What am I? || Allison asked. Her eyes were closed and she looked

|| A chess piece, || Cinnabar said. || Not unattractive, || she added.
Allison's body, as with all of the team members, had been stripped
splendidly nude; it brought back long-buried memories of the brief affair
they had shared. Mixed in with it came memories of her sensual bombardment
inside the chrysteel cube. Seeing her friends similarly imprisoned was at
once repulsive, and strangely arousing. She shook her head, briefly
disoriented. *What is happening to me?*

"Hello again, Cinnabar," Plastica said in a creamy tone. "I see you've
made it out of the maze. Your little friend is still inside, though she's
probably met a nasty fate by now. " She chuckled. "And you've found your
teammates. How sweet!"

"Yes," Cinnabar said, straining to keep her tone neutral. She turned
from Allison, trying to suppress the sudden desire she felt.

|| Who is that, || Allison said.

|| Plastica. She's not here, just observing us. ||

"As you see, they've become display pieces for my new company," Plastica
gloated, ignorant of the silent exchange that took place under her nose.
"Showroom samples, in other words, to show buyers what I can do. I had
planned to move them all into Sexateria, to decorate checkout and the
Leather Lounge. But, as so often happens, the lure of the market has
called. They've been sold, and at record prices. Tomorrow, at the crack
of dawn, they will all be shipped to their new homes... Chrystar to Rome,
Arctica to Sydney; new additions to art galleries, both of them. Blue
Cymbidium has been bought by an opium dealer in Thailand. I hated to part
with Xenon, but she's been bought by a wealthy bondage aficionado in New
York, to model his collection of vintage whips and harnesses. As for White
Rose, a certain computer magnate -- who I'm not at will to disclose -- has
paid a very high sum for her; one of his first programs was a simulated
chess game." She chuckled. "So say goodbye, Cinnabar. You won't ever be
together again."

|| Cinnabar, does she mean -- || Allison's mental voice sounded

|| I won't let her, || Cinnabar said. To Plastica, "Team Paragon are
not objects to be bought and sold, Plastica."

"Really," Plastica said in archly amused tone. "Speak for yourself,
Cinnabar." The last spotlit area, the empty one, suddenly had a familiar
occupant. "Look!"

Against her will Cinnabar stepped forward, steeling herself for a trap.
A still image of herself stood there, a hologram or some other kind of
projection. Yet not quite herself; it had the airbrushed perfection of a
computer simulation, or a magazine nude. It stood with its arms at its
sides, head erect, eyes blank... a passive receptacle for whatever might
be done to it.

"Yes, a Scirocco toy to make my collection complete," Plastica said.
"How shall I pose you, to play off your name and identity? Shall you be
cinnabar --" the pale flesh of the figure changed a rich reddish-brown
color -- "Or steel... " and the figure shone silver with a bluish cast,
highlights cupping its outhrust breasts and denuded sex -- "Or even
sandstone, perhaps... " and the figure changed yet again, to a ruddy
orange color with a faintly granular surface texture, as if unearthed from
some Egyptian tomb.

|| She's playing with you, || Allison warned. || Don't fall for it.
Don't go near that thing, whatever it is. ||

|| I'm not, || Cinnabar said. Yet she couldn't help herself. By
imperceptible degrees she found herself moving closer until she stood
nearly in front of her twin. Her mind felt fogged. She began to reach
out, stopping herself just in time. *A projection?* she thought. *Another
kind of mirror?*

"Like it?" Plastica said. The figure's eyes snapped open and looked at

Cinnabar started and jerked back a step. But all the statue did was
look. "I prefer the steel version," she said evenly.

"Steel it is, then," The statue became silver again, gleaming as if
fresh from the furnace. Cinnabar couldn't help but be fascinated. A
strange scent was in the air, a smell of a smell, rather than the smell
itself, acting on the primal centers deep within her brain. She let the
point of her sword drop to the floor, eyes locked on the thing. Slowly it
began to move, beckoning her. Smiling seductively, its silvery hand moved
to its mons.

|| Cinn? Are you okay? || Allison's voice was faint, distant.

"Look at it, Cinnabar," Plastica crooned. "See how perfect it is, how
hard and sleek. Don't you want to touch it? Let your hands and mouth
explore it?" The figure pivoted, its fingers tracing the exposed groove of
its pubic lips. Still watching her, it moved its other hand to its hard,
domelike breasts, circling its bulletlike nipples with its fingertips. It
spread its thighs slightly, letting Cinnabar see the channel between them
and the gleaming hand that stroked it.

"Look at how she enjoys herself," Plastica said as the hand became to
pump. "That could be you. You too could enjoy those pleasures, locked in
steel, forever..." Cinnabar recoiled, yet she still could not look away.
The statue's smile turned into silent gasps of pleasure, yet its eyes
remained locked on hers. *Join me -- *

Cinnabar let her sword drop. She began to reach out --

|| No, Cinn, don't! || Allison's mental command was loud, and sharp as
a goad. Cinnabar shook her head. From far above she heard a faint scrape:
Danger! She had only milliseconds to backflip out of the way before the
cage come down, slamming on the floor where she had stood with a heavy
clang. Pink gas immediately began spraying into the interior from the
bars. She would have been trapped.

Allison went frantic demanding what the noise and the hiss was. || I'm
all right, || Cinnabar said. She realized she'd been drugged somehow, by a
subtle variation of Plastica's mannequin gas. || But I can't play into her
trap anymore. ||

Roaring, she raised her sword and rushed at her doppelganger... and
went through it, and the hidden doorway beyond.


Darlene stumbled through yet another shifting mirror. She'd lost
Cinnabar long ago, and ARTIE too. She couldn't even hear them through the
damnable carnival music. To make things worse, mannequins had been
installed at various places in the maze, to confuse them or draw their

*Hell with it,* Darlene grumbled. *It's time for some old-fashioned

The next mirror she came to, she lifted, tearing it out of the moorings
in the floor with a grinding wrench. That one she stacked against the
corridor wall, and the next, and soon she came out of the maze.

But not where Team Paragon had been hidden. She was in the main part of
the mannequin factory itself, a four-story high space stocked with various
large machines whose purpose looked sinister. To her left were long rows
of shelving stacked high with recumbent mannequins. More mannequins stood
on the floor, wrapped tightly in plastic as if awaiting delivery.

She hadn't found the Team, but she'd found something just as important
-- Plastica's main base of operation. If the villainess was anywhere,
she'd be here. She walked out in a crouch, senses alert to danger. There
was lighting high above but the floor itself was dim, and filled with
confusing shadows. She passed to the left of the shrink-wrapped
mannequins, noting invoices had been taped to each naked pate. * They used
to be people, * Darlene thought, * Living, breathing. Now they're just
things. * The thought filled her with anger.

Darlene heard a muffled click. Whirling, she saw the nozzle of a weapon
aimed at her between the mannequin's shoulders, where its owner had hidden.
"Ah-hah! Gotcha!" Pink gas sprayed out.

Darlene rolled sideways, narrowly missing the cloud. Another followed;
if she hadn't leapt to her feet again, it would have caught her on the
ground. Cursing, she bounded to her feet and ran, making for the shelves.

"Stop! Stop!" the shooter shouted. Darlene hadn't gotten a good look
at her, but she knew she wasn't Plastica, for all her gleeful fury. She
crouched behind a shelf, peering out over the bodies of the mannequins.
Her stalker was young (though not as young as Darlene) and had light skin
and short black hair. She wore a dark-colored jumpsuit and the expression
on her face was determined; she hefted her weapon with skill and strength.
Her eyes darted back and forth as she searched, finger close on the
trigger. It was clear she thought herself as invincible.

Darlene glanced above her. There were four more tiers of mannequins on
the metal shelving above. With a slight shove, they could be...

Grinning, she put her shoulder to the shelving, and pushed.

The girl had walked on, but trotted back as the shelves began to creak.
"All right, come out! I know you're there!" She poked her weapon at the
stacks, walking slowly down the aisle. But she did not bother to look
above her. Darlene grunted, and the shelves tilted... sending thirty or
forty mannequins sliding off, and tumbling down. The girl gave a little
shriek and turned to run, but her heavy weapon hampered her. In an
eyeblink she was buried beneath a pile of plastic torsos and limbs.

*Poetic justice,* Darlene thought grimly. No doubt she'd had a hand in
plasticizing many of the mannequins herself. A faint wail told Darlene she
was trapped, but not hurt too badly. She couldn't escape by herself, that
was for sure.

The matter taken care of, Darlene walked into the open again.......
only to feel something cool and sticky hit her with force in the
midsection. It propelled her backwards, to mash her against the side of one
of the tanks. Instinctively, she closed her eyes and mouth, but the flow
continued its pressure... slick and powerful, more like oil than liquid.
She felt her arms and legs splay themselves out, pinning her against the
curve. * What is it -- !*

The pressure abated, and she opened her eyes. A black girl stood in
front of her grinning triumphantly, holding what looked like a fireman's
hose. The cool liquid had dried, encasing her in a transparent blob
against the side of the tank. Only her head remained exposed. "Thought
you could get away, huh?" Phanxine said.

Darlene tried to move, couldn't. In fact, she couldn't budge an inch.
*Holy spitwad,* she groaned. Her head lashed to and fro, to no avail.

"It's chrysteel," the black girl said. "Guess you were in the right
place at the right time, honey? Or the wrong place, at the wrong time..."
She put down the hose and lifted the plasticizing gun from her back.
"Looks like Plastica's gonna get a permanent addition to the factory


Cal heard a distant crash. He didn't know what it meant; but he had to
find out.

He scooted down the nearest corridor through several twists and turns.
In a few seconds he found a large hole in the glass wall. Beyond it was a
corporate showroom type place... and the missing members of Team Paragon
arranged on low platforms as if on display. An empty cage stood before one
of the platforms. Pink gas hung thickly in the air.

"Cinn? Darlene?" he called. No answer. If it was a trap, it had
already been sprung... and by the gap in the wall, its prey already gone.
He rotated slowly in the air, trying to figure out what to do... and
blushed beet-red in his seat back at HQ. Neither Cinnabar or Darlene had
told him the other members had been posed so... erotically.

Then he saw Lori. She was pale blue in color, naked, balanced on the
toes of one foot with her arms outstretched as if she was about to take
flight, or was dancing... trapped not only in plastic, but frozen and
drowned as well, in the center of a giant snowglobe filled with tiny

He flitted over to the globe, hovering frantically before the curve.
"Lori! Lori!" If he'd been there in person, he would have banging on the
glass sphere that imprisoned her. But she neither blinked nor moved. All
signs of life were frozen.

He wanted to shatter it immediately, but realized the outcome might
damage the other statues. Quickly he flashed through ARTIE's toolbox menu,
finally selecting an industrial strength drill. He moved down to the
bottom of the sphere and began to drill. In a few seconds the hole was
draining, and he began to drill another. If he made a circle of them, he
might use a saw to connect them.

He glanced at the statue next to Lori. She had been trapped in a
similar fashion, but inside a clear, solid pyramid. Remembering Cinnabar's
plight he extracted the chrysteel dissolvant with ARTIE's left claw as the
right continued to drill. He sprayed it on the surface. The viscous,
silvery liquid shimmered like starlight and flowed like water over the
pyramid; where it touched, the surface began to smoke.

He turned back to Lori's globe, drilling six more holes that formed a
rough circle at the globe's base. Then, switching to a mechanical saw, he
started to cut between them. In a few more seconds it was as if a bathtub
plug had been pulled; the globe began to drain in earnest, sending a steady
cascade of water across the showroom floor, and he was able to locate the
seam that joined the two halves together. Using ARTIE's main manipulator
claws, he pulled them apart and let them roll away.

"... uh... " A female moan made him turn around; the chrysteel pyramid
had melted completely and the statue within was coming to life. It had
been posed in a running position but now sank to the floor, kneeling,
bracing itself on its arms. Another superheroine... made completely of
crystal this time. *Chrystar,* he recalled. She raised her head. Though
it was hard to see her features he thought they registered surprise. "Wha
-- ?"

"I'm a friend," he said quickly, scooting down next to her. "This is
ARTIE, a robot belonging to Fem-Fantastique. I'm just driving him. I'm
Cal, Lori's boyfriend."

"Holy fuck," Chrystar muttered groggily. "How did you get involved in
all this?"

"It's too long to explain, but Cinnabar and Darlene sent me to rescue

Chrystar held her hand to the side of her head in a comic way. Like the
mannequins, she was bald, and had some sort of writing on her scalp. "Uh.
I think I'm going to need more than a few minutes to recover. That was
*nasty.* When I get my hands on that skinny-ass skanky freak -- "

Cal was not about to let her mouth off. Thinking ahead, he put the two
canisters of antidote into her hands. "Here. We have an antidote; help me
transform the others back."

"But --" Chrystar said, pointing. Cal turned ARTIE to see the ceiling
peeled back and four capture tongs rising into the air, the remaining
statues swinging beneath them. Plastica's laughter echoed loudly.

"Bitch! Where's she taking them?" Chrystar said.

"I don't know. But I'm going to find out!" Cal revved ARTIE's motors
and sped after them.

This work is copyrighted 2002-2003 by Cobalt Jade (
This work may be be freely distributed over electronic media provided no
fee is charged for its use. Charging a fee for this story, or publishing
without author credit or this notice violates my copyright.


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