In a private apartment in the bad part of New Oslo a pair of scientists stood over a third person as he lay on a coach. “Alright, you should be good to go in a few minutes,” Jason Humington, also known as Cold Fusion, told his subject as he put down the empty syringe. “The chemical solution I've just filled you with should enhance your powers, allowing you to adjust your size more and make your other gift harder to reverse.” The scientist smiled as he glanced down at his patient, the yellow mutant known as Mister Mannequin. The insane ex-janitor had been captured by the Italian mafia a while back and was being used to kidnap people, mainly women, to be sold as slaves. Thanks to interference from the local crime fighters and their allies Mister Mannequin had escaped and come to Jason. Before the mutant's capture a deal had been made that Jason enhance his abilities in exchange for a favor. Now the deal was finally going to be completed.
“Jason, are you sure about letting him loose?” asked Ashley Cornell, Jason's assistant and lover. “I can see how he could be useful, but remember your goal? How will he help you become a better scientist...?” The woman shifted her feet as she stood next to Jason, making sure to stay out of Mister Mannequin's reach. Over the past day she'd been touched and transformed into a mannequin on three separate occasions, though luckily Jason had the technology available to reverse the transformations. Now, however, thanks to the injection that Maxwell had received, he did not.
“I may have just cracked the secret on a formula the government has kept to themselves!” insisted Jason, ignoring Ashley's worries. “Now mutants, regardless of who they work for, can gain enhancements to their special gifts. It was more of a crime to keep this from the rest of the world!” As he ranted, Jason reached into his pocket and then pulled his hand out, concealing something in his palm.
“Yes, I know, but what about the rest of this plan of yours?” insisted Ashley. “Why do you need to—” Ashley was abruptly cut off as the gas capsule hidden in Jason's hand went off, immediately causing her to inhale the paralyzing agent Cold Fusion had just perfected. The ultimate result was that the female scientist was now frozen stiff as if time had stopped just for her, her mouth hanging open as she'd been attempting to form the letter A with her lips. Both of Ashley's arms were outstretched in front of her, her palms up and her fingers bent, the woman having tried to use her upper body to add emphasis to her words.
“What did you do?” asked Mister Mannequin from the couch, eyeing Ashley.
“Just a test run of a new gas I created,” explained Jason as he pocketed the empty capsule and stepped around to the other side of the frozen scientist. “That formula I injected you with makes you immune to the gas as it does with me. Anyone else who breathes it gets it stuck in their nose and is paralyzed for quite some time. I want you to use it when I send you on a mission.” Cold Fusion proceeded to wrap his arms around Ashley's waist and walk backwards, dragging the woman on her heels further away from Mister Mannequin.
“Why can't we just do what we first talked about?” demanded Mister Mannequin. Jason made note that the villain sounded a bit more sane than usual and suspected the formula was caused the effect.
“It will take me some time to finish perfecting what we'll need for that one,” insisted Jason. “in the meantime you need to make sure the only person capable of stopping us it dealt with.”
* * *
“It's finally almost ready,” declared Elsa as she stood at a table in her lab, tinkering with a device. “All we need to do is find a way to get a wider range and we'll have the perfect weapon for disabling Technomagus.”
“It'll be nice to put that monster behind me,” commented Claire as she experimented with the lab's large capsules, going over how to thaw someone who had been frozen solid using cold temperatures, as with cryogenics. With several villains off of the hit list the scientists were free to concentrate on developing ways of combatting those that remained.
“I'll just be happy if the Justice Force ever sends some people to build that new base they promised, or at least another hero,” added Judgement Girl as she went over the list of current international villains on the most wanted list. The ones running the underground Super Villain Cable Network were a high priority but unfortunately no one knew who the head of the organization was.
“Claire, could you hand me the wireless soldering iron?” asked Elsa, holding out her left hand. Oddly enough, however, the other woman didn't reply. “Claire?” Elsa called again, this time looking up from her work. The redhead scientist stood where she was before, in front of the console that operated the human-sized capsules, her left hand resting on the machine while her right was reaching out to pick up the tool Elsa had asked for from a nearby table. Claire had also turned her head to her right and was looking straight at the tool but seemed to of just stopped in mid-motion. “Victoria, something's wrong!” warned Elsa, immediately suspecting the worst. When the older woman turned to look at the young law student however she gasped. Judgement Girl had turned off the monitor she'd been looking at turned to look at Claire, her left arm raised with her finger pointing at the woman. Vicky's lips were slightly parted, her eyebrows raised while her right arm was slightly further from her hip, as if she'd been trying to gesture to Elsa. Both Claire and Victoria seemed to be frozen in place.
Screaming once, Elsa bolted for the door to the lab, but right as he left hand grasped the knob, her right on the wall next to the door, her legs spread, she too inhaled some of Cold Fusion's invisible paralyzing gas and was immediately frozen stiff. “You made this too easy, my dear,” declared Mister Mannequin as he pushed open the vent grate, letting it clatter to the floor with not so much as a twitch from any of the three immobilized woman. An empty gas capsule also tumbled to the floor as Lewis Maxwell slid out from his hiding place and landed on the floor, using his extending legs to avoid the need of falling. “Ah, the sexy Judgement Girl,” sighed Mister Mannequin as he walked over to the young heroine. “Such a beautiful woman, no wonder I used to call you a flower. If you don't mind me being so bold, let taste those lips of yours...” Mister Mannequin leaned in and pressed his mouth against Victoria's, enjoying her soft lips for the first time. As the mutant pulled back, however, the soft skin was replaced with hard plastic, as was her eyes, teeth and nails. Judgement Girl was now a mannequin. Taking his time to admire the women and their figures Lewis proceeded to do the same thing to Claire and Elsa.
“And now for something I'm not so sorry about,” declared Mister Mannequin as he pulled out the three women out of the room and through the doorway Elsa had been trying to open. When the lab was clear Mister Mannequin drew the gorgon ray from his waistband and fired it all around the room, turning everything to stone, even the walls and floor. Mister Mannequin had held onto the weapon after escaping from the Marlowe Boutique and had now used it to cripple the only location in New Oslo capable of restoring those transformed by his touch. While FBI, military and even local law enforcement scientists could reverse some transformations, restoring the lab or the three women would be next to impossible for them now.
“Come on ladies, we're going to your new home,” Mister Mannequin informed his three silent captives as he awkwardly picked them up and exited the building using the roof.
* * *
Navigating the city's many rooftops was no trouble for Mister Mannequin thanks to his ability to elongate his limbs. All the same it was difficult as he was carrying three mannequins, even if they weren't wearing anything that could fall off. By the time Lewis returned to Cold Fusion's apartment nearly two hours had gone by. Mister Mannequin slid in through a window that Jason had left open for him and placed the three women turned mannequins next to it. Jason was sitting at his desk with a new ray weapon in his hand, his chair facing Ashley while she still stood motionless near the back of the room. “I'm good here, how did you make out?” asked Cold Fusion, swiveling his seat to face the new arrival.
“I've got three lovely mannequins and a petrified lab,” reported Mister Mannequin, handing Jason the gorgon ray.
“Good, then we've got a month to take this town over,” smiled Cold Fusion, holding up the weapon he'd been fingering. “My new toy is ready and I've got enough gas in my storage lockers to freeze the entire state. In between my inventions and our own powers I doubt anyone will be able to stop us now...”
“What about her?” asked Mister Mannequin, nodding in the direction of Ashley.
“She stays as she is,” warned Jason, his eyes narrowing. “Quite frankly I would of preferred not to have to gas her, but it couldn't be helped. Now grab yourself some clothes to disguise yourself and lets head over; we've only got a few hours until the show starts.”
“Not to mention two cops just arrived,” observed Mister Mannequin, noticing a live recording on one of Jason's monitors. Glancing over Cold Fusion saw that, thanks to the camera he installed out front of the building, that Carl Davies and Alice Tilly had just pulled up.
“Bah, the landlady must of gotten wise,” cursed Cold Fusion. “No worries, that's why I took the time to install a few surprises inside the building's air vents...” As the cops entered the building Jason switched the feed to that of the camera in the main lobby. The complex's wanna-be security guard, a curly-haired brunette working her way though college, got up from her desk to greet the officers. Jason sneered at the video as he pressed a button on a remote that sat on his desk. Mister Mannequin heard a quiet hissing sound and continued to watch the monitor. As the security guard picked up the binder containing tenant information to hand to Alice the scene suddenly froze as if Cold Fusion had paused the video. This was not the case however as the time-stamp in the corner of the monitor continued to tick forward. Alice continued to stand there, her right hand outstretched to take the binder with her left hand on her hip, Carl standing nearby his his thumbs hooked into his belt.
“What did you do, gas the whole building?” asked Mister Mannequin.
“Every room, even the public urinals,” Jason assured his partner. The two men quickly went to work, putting on disguises and grabbing several gas capsules, the pair favoring trenchcoats and fedoras. After kissing Ashley goodbye Cold Fusion left his room with Mister Mannequin in tow. Right in the middle of the 3rd floor hallway stood an African-American girl who appeared to be around nineteen who was frozen with an equally immobile gray tabby in her arms. Not much further down was a man in a suit who stood in front of a room door with keys in his hands, he too not even blinking.
Upon arriving in the lobby Mister Mannequin saw that there was an Asian woman in her thirties holding the handle of the pay phone in her left hand while her right index finger was pressing down the number 4 on the device. “Don't touch anyone,” warned Jason as he walked over to Alice. “Or if you do, don't change them. We can always come back after we've taken care of our biggest threats.” Mister Mannequin ended up standing back while Jason searched Alice's belt for the keys to the squad car. After finding them he took a moment to glance back and forth between Alice and the security guard, who's name tag read 'MEG'. “Okay, we'll have a bit of fun,” sighed Jason, deciding it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Cold Fusion put the binder aside and began stripping down Meg while Mister Mannequin did the same with Alice, ultimately leaving the women nude save for their shoes and socks, their clothes pilled below them on the floor. Mister Mannequin then lay Alice down flat on top of Meg's desk, her pose remaining the same, and Jason then placed the security guard on top of the cop, their lips touching though their mouths weren't open. After enjoying the scene for a moment the two villains left, stealing the squad car.
* * *
“Aren't you a bit worried about all the attention Stephanie's giving your fiancée?” Lilly asked Jessica as the pair arrived at the fashion show. Maria Chavez, a good friend of Lilly's, was graduating from modeling school and now in her first show, which showed off a line of cocktail dresses made by fashion students. Maria had invited Lilly, Jenny and Victoria, naturally, but also extended an invitation to Jessica and Nathan, her fiancée. Nathan however was busy helping Lockdown at the FBI headquarters, fresh from his leave from the hospital and instructing the rookies a bit about jiu jutsu.
“Not really, considering he's openly admitted that he isn't interested in her sexually,” replied Jessica as she handed her ticket to the usher-type person. “Besides, Steph likes Hyper Man. Or did you not hear that story?”
“Of course I did, Vicky wouldn't shut up about it for a while,” Lilly reminded Jessica as they found their seats, which were near the front row. The show was taking place in a public gym that had been converted appropriately, a brown vinyl carpet covering the wooden floor and several plastic folding chairs set up. In the front row sat dozens of photographers, some with the media and some just people who wanted pictures. The walkway was made of easy to assemble wood and covered with a black cloth which led to giant red curtains, behind which were the models along with full body mirrors, dress racks and a few visiting friends, Jenny among them as she helped Maria with her make-up.
“Those are nice flowers,” observed Jessica as she took her seat, noting the beautifully-shaped paper flowers around the base of the walkway. A few more decorated the walls of the gym. What no one seemed to care about, however, was the fact that they were a late addition to the show...
The show began and the first few models did their walk and it quickly came to Maria's turn. The sexy Latino wore a black cocktail dress with a white leaf pattern on it and complimented it with matching leather heels. As the music being played switched to Shaggy's Hey Sexy Lady Maria smiled and stepped out onto the walkway. The female announcer, Maria's modeling teacher Chloe Davids, spoke her name and thus hid the sound of several gas capsules popping in unison around the crowd. The paper flowers had been made by Jason days earlier in anticipation for the event and he'd felt it was appropriate to detonate the secret surprises inside each one when Maria came out. He was standing backstage behind the rack of dresses, hidden from view, while Mister Mannequin sat in the air vent yet again.
The entire audience of the fashion show, a group made up almost entirely of women, was frozen instantly, Lilly and Jessica being no exceptions. Lilly had opened her camera phone and had been trying to take a picture of Maria as she sat in her seat, a smile on her face as she enjoyed her friend's appearance. Jessica also sat with a smile on her face, looking at Maria with her teeth showing as her hands were frozen in mid-clap, inches apart as they'd been coming together. Chloe, who was a dyed blonde with her hair up in an attractive bun and wore a black turtleneck with matching pants, was frozen with her left arm gesturing towards the stage, the microphone in her right held to her lips as she failed to finish saying the word 'gorgeous.' Maria herself stood with her left leg slightly bent, her right hand on her hip while her left arm was straight down with her fingers spread wide. The music continued to play though the scene was now frozen.
The girls backstage were a bit confused when Chloe stopped in mid-sentence, prompting one girl to go glance through the curtains. As she turned back and tried to warn the others the gas overcame her and she too was paralyzed. Jason watched from his hiding place as a few of the less intelligent models tried to check on the other girl only to freeze themselves as they got closer to the invisible gas. Jenny was the last to freeze, her cell held in her right hand with her left bent somewhat at the elbow and outstretched, fear on her face as she'd been trying to reach 911. Jason emerged from behind the dresses and walked towards the frozen young woman, pressing the END button on the phone right as she got through.
“We'll be having none of that,” Jason told the silent Jenny as he raised his new ray and fired point-blank at Jenny's face. A moment after the bright yellow light from the ray gun faded Jenny's soft skin became shiny like plastic as did the rest of her body save her hair. A quick knock on her head revealed that she had indeed been turned into a mannequin. Jason's new display ray, an offshoot of the gorgon ray, was a complete success.
Cold Fusion quickly used his weapon on all the other women backstage as Mister Mannequin emerged from his hiding place and examined the new Jenny mannequin. “It woulds almost exactly like my own power,” observed the mutant as he stroked the woman's face.
“It helped that I got a sample of your DNA,” replied Jason as he finished zapping the models and their friends, leaving twenty-seven people as mannequins. “My original design for the weapon would turn everything, clothing and all, into plastic, which would look too suspicious. With this not only do we have a better disguise for victims, but we don't have to rely only on your touch.” The two men proceeded onto the runway where the song was still playing. Mister Mannequin casually stretched out his right arm and smashed the sound system near Chloe, also touching and changing her in the process. The mutant did the same to Maria while Cold Fusion used the ray on the audience, changing them faster than Mister Mannequin ever could.
“I want to take this one with us,” insisted Lewis as he walked up to the new Maria mannequin and stroked her bare arms. “She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Like I used to always say, she's a flower, one of the prettiest of all.”
“Well, seeing as you touched her and we can't change her back now, go for it,” sighed Jason. He'd asked his partner not to transform anyone unless it was a matter of self-defense, but the two women were no big loss, nor was Elsa, Claire or Victoria. Jason had no need for the sidekick and the models, plus while he respected Elsa and Claire for their intelligence he could live without them. “Alright, lets just take a few minutes to search the crowd for petty cash and then we'll head back to the apartment and deal with everyone there.” Mister Mannequin took the group to the right of the runway while Jason worked on the right, starting with Lilly and Jessica.
“Hello there, muscle head,” greeted Jason to the Lady Justice mannequin as he picked up her brown leather purse and searched it, coming up with little cash. “Nice ring,” he observed next, pulling Jessica's engagement ring off of her rigid finger and pocketing it for himself. “Ah, and the fourth member of college girls from hell,” Cold Fusion chuckled as he came to Lilly and plucked her phone from her hands. The woman's own purse was filled with cash and valuables so Jason just took the whole thing. “I'll see you two later, so don't you go anywhere!”
The two villains continued to rob the helpless audience, taking jewelry, cash and other valuables. The silence in the gym made it easy for the pair to hear the footsteps in the outside hallway, giving Cold Fusion enough time to open more gas capsules and throw them at the area of the floor in front of the doors. Sure enough a moment later the doors were pushed open Lockdown entered, her ray weapon in her right hand. The FBI agent's elbows still propped the twin doors open when the paralyzing gas entered her system, locking her in place as she became as frozen as the crowd of mannequins, her right foot hanging inches from the floor ahead of her while the tip of her left boot touched the ground behind her. Mister Mannequin zipped over to the other door, which was located closer to the stage, ready to touch whoever entered while Jason transformed Lockdown into a mannequin, albeit one in a very unusual pose.
“Jason!” called a voice from the second entrance as it opened. “Jason, please listen to me!” Panic hit Cold Fusion like a ton of bricks as he spun around just in time to see Ashley stepping through the door right as Mister Mannequin touched her neck. The female scientist's left foot was forward, her right behind, both solidly on the ground. Both of her arms were outstretched towards Cold Fusion as he stood near Lockdown, her sad eyes and frown seeming to be imploring him. As soon as contact was made Ashley froze in that position, her skin becoming hard and shiny as opposed to soft and warm. The one woman Jason Humington had wanted to spare from his plans to turn a good portion of New Oslo into mannequins had just been transformed, and without Elsa's lab there was no way to restore her.
“No!” shouted Cold Fusion, collapsing to his knees and dropping his ray. Mister Mannequin stepped over to Ashley from his location closer to the wall, giving Nathan Goldwin the perfect target for the Taser he was carrying. A small cartridge with two needles and a wire attached nailed Mister Mannequin right in the back, unleashing a brutal electrical current that caused the mutant to collapse to the ground and begin convulsing. The martial artist hurried into the room, ignoring his worries about the crowd and the others as he trained a second shock weapon on Cold Fusion.
“Give it up, Jason,” ordered Nathan, the Taser pointed straight at the scientist's face.
“Yeah, sure...” whispered Cold Fusion, raising his hands. A pair of FBI agents emerged from behind Lockdown and pulled the stiff agent out of the way so they could get in and handcuff the deranged scientist. Another pair entered from where Nathan had come in and tranquilized Mister Mannequin. Neither villain resisted.
* * *
“You made his power irreversible?” gasped Lady Justice as she, Lockdown and Police Chief Wanda Meyers sat in an interrogation room in New Oslo's FBI headquarters. Less than an hour before the attack on the fashion show Lockdown had gone to look for the missing police officers and found Jason's apartment building. Those frozen by Jason's gas were restored by FBI lab techs and Ashley had told her where Jason was going to be. Nathan rode along and elected to take Ashley in the back way so she could reason with the evil scientist. Jason's ray was used to restore those turned into mannequins by it in the first place, but those touched by Mister Mannequin could not be restored. Mister Mannequin was now in the special FBI prison, secured by a stasis field.
“Yes,” muttered Jason, sitting across from the three women, his voice thick with remorse.
“You realize this means that Elsa Louiselle, Claire Greenfield, Victoria Hamilburg, Chloe Davis, Maria Chavez are stuck forever as mannequins?” Wanda told the other two women.
“Not necessarily forever,” piped up Jason, raising his bowed head. “Elsa's lab has the only two full molecular alternation capsules in the city. There used to be others but they were destroyed the last time you guys destroyed my own place. Those capsules are much more powerful than the portable units you normally use to restore those that have been transformed.”
“The entire contents of Elsa's lab was found to be turned to stone,” Lockdown told Jason. “The gorgon ray was lost back when we found Mister Mannequin acting as a slave for the Mob. Mister Mannequin used it on the lab when he struck there, didn't he?”
“Yes,” sighed Jason, knowing what was coming.
“Unless we get the ray back, we won't be able to restore the lab until the effect wears off,” Lockdown said. “Our devices can't restore non-living things to their original molecular composition. Where's the ray, Jason?”
“Destroyed,” confessed Cold Fusion. “I didn't see the need to keep it and had it shattered after freezing it. And without the original, it'll take me a long time to build a new one, which even then might not work.”
“Great, now we're stuck without lab support or my sidekick for a month,” groaned Lady Justice.
“It's worse than that,” sobbed Jason as tears formed in his eyes. “Elsa and Claire are the only ones who would know the codes needed to operate the devices in her lab, so even if the capsules are restored they can't be used. And the only place to get more is here in the United States, but the government has forty back-ordered from the only company that builds them. You're not looking at a month, Jessica, you're looking at years.”
to be continued in Time Is Fleeting, Industry Is Not...