“Hey! This isn’t funny; what’s happening? You sick fucks better let me go, right now... or else! Why can’t you hear me? Someone... HELP!”
--- 36 hours before ---
Marjorie Pickering was a very pretty young woman with a very haughty attitude. Blessed by serendipitous heritage, born to a life of wealth and privilege; in her short time she had known only happiness and opportunity, which often made her wonder why others seemed to encounter so many challenges. She looked like a dream: nobly tall yet not skinny, shapely without being slutty, muscular in that lissome manner of dancers or swimmers, having a classically beautiful face framed by walnut-hued brunette hair that made one wonder why anyone would ever have described brown as being “mousy”. That breathtaking beauty was truly only skin deep. To say that ‘Margie’ had a perpetual stick up her ass was a vast understatement, as well as getting slightly ahead of our story...
One nippy golden afternoon in the middle of autumn, she sat fitfully at a table under a majestic oak tree, growing slightly annoyed at the leaves she had to brush every so often away from her poli-sci textbook. Studying was such a chore; Marjorie was considering simply seducing the professor to get a good grade. It wasn’t like it was something she hadn’t done before.
Her contemplation was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Sally Gruzik, a classmate and lab partner of Marjorie’s who considered the snobbish student a close friend of hers, a rapport that Marjorie definitely did not share. Sally was pretty, in an ordinary way, and always seemed to be watching her weight though her somewhat padded figure was appealing to many guys. She was pre-med, drowning in her coursework, and paid little attention to her appearance or social skills. Today she wore a bulky dark orange sweater-dress and black leggings that made her look rather like a Halloween costume gone wrong, along with her typical horn-rimmed glasses. Carrying a stack of books, notebooks, and papers, balancing a lunch tray in one hand, she seemed like a comic catastrophe waiting to strike.
On the other side of the table, Marjorie looked as if she had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Dressed casually yet styled impeccably, she wore a crisply tailored khaki-colored linen jumpsuit, slightly belled at the legs, accented by a wide, cinched, russet leather belt at her slim waist and similarly shaded leather ankle boots on her feet. Her hair was loose, flowing past her shoulders in cascading waves. A skein of thin golden strands looped around her neck and down to the tops of her breasts; matching gold bracelets were on her wrists.
“Hey, you gonna do that thing this weekend?” Sally asked, sitting down abruptly across from Marjorie, letting the tray holding a single green salad drop onto the table and nearly spilling her drink. Marjorie looked up and grunted in greeting; the diet seemed to be working for Sally, this time.
Marjorie herself never seemed to have an ounce out of place on her statuesque figure; frequent tennis matches and all those Pilates sessions her parents paid for showed in her toned muscles, lithe legs, and slim waist. People said she should go out for a pageant, or very least try some modeling jobs. Those seemed like too much effort; she liked to spend her free time, when not working out or preparing herself for an executive career, playing make-believe characters. Maybe acting would be more to her liking, she mused. But, it didn’t pay so well.
“Umm, I dunno. Sounds stupid to me...” she scorned Sally, whose face fell visibly.
“Oh, come on! It’ll be fun. I’m gonna be in it too, and Chad Beswick, along with some of his team buds,” her friend urged, picking at the greens and wishing she’d gotten a big slice of pizza instead. At least she had her chocolate milk...
“Chad?” Marjorie asked, looking up, having a slight crush on the hunky rugby player.
“Yeah; he’s running the show. Some kind of art project, or so he said. There’s gonna be a wrap party afterward; his place...” Sally continued to hawk the occasion.
“So, they’re going to post it online?”
“’Course; hoping it will go viral and get them some ads. Might be some good exposure for you, too...”
“What do you mean – why should I care?”
“You’ve got that cosplay page; don’t say you don’t. I’ve seen it...” Sally admitted, having more than just browsed the many images of her gorgeous classmate costumed as dazzling fantasy, comic, and gaming characters.
“Oh, that’s just a silly hobby,” Marjorie chuckled, downplaying. “doesn't get many hits.”
“You could get more; it’s really kinda hot,” Sally replied, blushing a little. You are, too...
“For sure, yeah! For this movie they’re doing, you can wear one of your best outfits!”
“The Wonder Woman?” Marjorie brightened. That was one of her favorites. It never failed to get her some pics when she wore it to conventions. “What exactly is this thing they’re doing, again?”
“Well it’s kind of a nostalgic video, sort of a homage to one of Chad’s favorite actors who starred in scads of stuff on TV and in movies. He was even in the original Planet of the Apes! It’s gonna be his 95th birthday coming up, so that inspired Chad to do a short vid for it. Plus, what guy didn’t fantasize about Wonder Woman when growing up?”
“Hmm, maybe you’re right,” Marjorie agreed, getting more intrigued. “When is this vid shooting?”
“This Saturday. Over at a warehouse his dad runs,” Sally supplied, smiling. “Start at nine, then go ‘till they got what they want. Probably order in dinner if it goes late. Pizza, maybe?”
“Sounds OK. I’ve got a hike planned for the next day, but I was just going to study tomorrow, or take a jog...”
“This’ll be way more fun. You study too much anyway...” Sally chuckled, getting up with most of her salad still uneaten. “I’ll text you the addy. Don’t forget to bring your pretty face, they got one of the girls from cosmetology to do make-up!”
“All right. I guess I can make it.”
“Hey, better still, I can pick you up; your apartment building isn’t that far from the dorms and we could talk on the way over?” Sally brightened.
“I suppose...” Marjorie allowed, not wanting to worry about parking her Z4 all day in some grimy industrial slum. “Okay.”
“Oh, great, thanks! See you tomorrow, sis...” She made her exit, forgetting her tray, waving like a silly first-year.
Marjorie watched her go, getting the growing impression she’d just been conned. “Now, what did I get myself into this time?” she asked the empty air around her.
* * *
The next day turned out to be cool and rainy, so Marjorie gave up on the idea of going for a run and headed to the movie shoot after all; she’d been on the verge of blowing them off even tho she told Sally she’d do it.
Her costume was packed in a labeled duffle, along with the black-haired wig and the cosmetics she used for her WW ‘look’. Additional duffles on shelves in her well-organized walk-in closet held, among many others, “Sailor Moon”, “Zatana”, “Emma Frost”, “Major Shepard”, “Tinker Belle”, and “Jessica Rabbit”; she believed in being prepared. Even her clothing reflected this; for today she wore a fitted fleece warm-up suit and tiny briefs, going bra-less for now so there wouldn’t be any marks left on her skin when she put on her outfit later. Tube socks and cross-trainers completed her decidedly untypical look. On the other hand, she’d put extra effort into her upper body and facial make-up, giving herself an almost theatrically overstated appearance, with a pale radiant foundation, well defined eyes and brows, strong blusher on her cheeks, and lipstick in a carnelian shade that complemented the reds of her costume well.
Sally had called that morning and reminded her of the pick her up. Marjorie nibbled on a light breakfast while she fidgeted, waiting. There’s still time to back out, she thought.
And then there wasn’t. Her phone buzzed with the arrival of a text: ‘Dwnstrz now. S’ Picking up the duffle and a couple of extra bottles of San Pellegrino in case they had only tap water to drink, she headed to the elevators outside her 24th floor suite.
Sally’s car looked like a mechanical version of Sally: it was rather dumpy, out of style, and much in need of a makeover. Or at least a good coat of paint. She was parked, waiting in the bus stop, ignoring the perfectly well marked ‘Visitor’ spots nearby.
“Morning, Marj! Throw your stuff in the back and we’ll get going; you ride shotgun. I bought some donuts, too...”
“Great...” Marjorie grumbled as she brushed crumbs off the passenger seat before sitting in it.
* * *
Despite the its dilapidated exterior, Chad’s dad’s warehouse looked clean and tidy inside, at least the shipping area where they’d be working. By the time Marjorie and Sally arrived, most of the video, sound, and lighting had already been set up, tied together by loose cables snaking across the varnished concrete floor. Large boxes and packing materials, including foam peanuts, were strewn about. Prop sculptures, looking like they’d come from dumpsters or garage sales, were scattered through the set. There were even a few pale, faceless, mannequin figures posed around. A small ‘craft service’ table had been set up off to one side, supplied with vegetables, fruit, and nuts to which Sally contributed her box of sugar-coated donuts.
“Okay, okay, people!” Chad Bestwick proclaimed, “Talent’s here. Let’s do a quick run-through before getting into costume,” he stated, acting directorial.
“Right. Where do you want these?” grunted one of Chad’s friends, someone Marjorie instantly pegged as not being a morning person. He picked up one of the empty boxes with a painful scowl on his face that looked like one from a howling hangover.
“Uh, just over there. I want to block out the fight scene, mostly,” Chad pointed towards an existing pile of boxes. “Ladies, drop your junk and join us.” He looked around for a second, searching. “Where’s my Roberts?”
“In the can,” another of the rugby team supplied. “I think he’s puking...”
“Alright... All Right; All. Right.” Chad said, mostly to himself, repressing his mounting irritation. “I’ll take that part for now. Bruce better know his lines, though!” he fumed, stepping into the clear area that was the focus of the cameras and lights. “Girls, over here!”
They joined him “on set”. Marjorie noticed there was a sort of pungent chemical smell in the air; with idle curiosity, she questioned what they might be storing here and if it was hazardous. She noticed there were also stacks of large black plastic drums off in the shadows.
“Um, Marjorie, please pay attention,” Chad prompted her, gaining him a poisonous look.
He isn’t really that bad; if he’d only stop acting like some kind of douchebag jock, she mused, putting on her best plastic smile; the one she reserved for cops and maître-des. “Yes, sir,” she mocked.
He didn’t catch the sarcasm. “Good, then. How much do you know about the Wonder Woman TV episode called ‘The Fine Art of Crime’? I sent you all a link to an old clip of it...”
“That’s one of my favorites!” Sally beamed.
“OK, yeah,” Marjorie muttered, having not checked her email. “I know I get the title role...”
“Yes, true, and you are looking quite – titular – today,” Chad quipped with a sly smile, his eyes taking in her sumptuous shape; one of the other guys moving boxes guffawed.
“Look; I don’t have to do this,” she snapped back. “I’m doing it mostly as a favor to Sally and I’ve got much better things to do today. Like... pretty much anything.” She turned towards the door, forgetting for the moment she didn’t drive here herself.
“He didn’t mean to be rude!” chimed in Sally. “Come on, calm down; this is supposed to be fun. So, let’s have some fun, huh?”
“Bygones, Marjie,” Chad echoed. “It’s not often I get to meet someone with your beauty and... presence... up close. If there was more time, I’d like to get to know you better. Say, over dinner sometime?” he recovered, making an obvious pass.
“Maybe,” she allowed, turning back. “We’ll see..” I wonder if he comes from money?
“All right, then. To the scene: Roberts has this gizmo that turns freezes people in place, makes them like living sculptures, see? He’s hatched this intricate plot to trap Wonder Woman as one of his ‘artworks’ and but she doesn’t realize it, yet. So, they have this big fight, but what she doesn’t know is that he’s already captured someone close to her...” Chad narrated.
“...Harold Farnum;” put in Sally, “Diana Prince’s boyfriend, who’s kind of a klutz...”
“...right,” picked up Chad again. “And Roberts has this great speech where he threatens to freeze that schlub permanently unless she agrees to be frozen instead. It’s a classic heroic moment. She agrees, but then she switches bracelets, taking off the one with the gizmo in it and putting on her own instead, but he doesn’t see that. He activates the machine, and...”
“...it looks like she’s turned into a statue too,” Sally supplied, a bit too eagerly.
“Yup. That’s where our scene ends. See, nobody knows what’s happened at that point,” Chad summed up.
“Yeah...” Sally gushed, “It’s classic, selfless!”
“Seems simple enough. A little dustup, a bit of snappy repartee,” Marjorie agreed. “You got a script?”
“It’s pretty much the same lines as in the TV show, at least for you. I made a coupla changes for this production, so here’s an outline. He handed her and Sally a few double-spaced pages; their parts were each highlighted in yellow marker. “This isn’t Masterpiece Theatre, and we’ve got less than a day; so how about doing the scene once, then get into costume and makeup and we’ll shoot it live. That way, we can keep all the good takes?”
“OK by me,” Marjorie agreed. “Let’s make a movie!” bubbled Sally.
* * *
Rehearsals had actually taken a couple of tries, since the guy playing Farnum hadn’t arrived yet and so Sally had stood in for him; not that that took a lot of skill since he spent the entire scene frozen stiff. Two of Chad’s other team buddies had taken the roles of a frozen security guard and fisherman statue that come to life and join in the fight scene before being subdued.
There wasn’t a separate changing room, so the actors had taken turns using the locker room at the front of the warehouse; the guys had gone first and now Marjorie and Sally were taking their chance.
With the unselfconscious directness of someone utterly comfortable with their body, Marjorie had quickly stripped down to the narrow thong briefs – almost a G-string – she had chosen that morning, doffing her outer clothes and lace bra in a moment, leaving Sally speechless gazing at her friend’s magnificent physique for a few moments before she recovered and started to help her idol get dressed.
Marjorie first pulled on shiny pearlescent pantyhose over her long legs, taking care to keep them from bunching up or getting runs from the splintered benches she sat on. Next came the star-spangled blue skin-tight hot pants briefs and a corseted bustier top that displayed her impressive cleavage (she had naturally chosen to adopt the ‘traditional’ WW costume style, not one the many revisions); these of course fit her like a latex glove, having been custom-tailored. A polished gold-plated brass breastplate in the classic double-W draping and a wide tight golden utility belt followed; the latter prop required her to exhale deeply before she could clasp it in place. The gleaming bracers and starred tiara Marjorie put aside for the moment as she next tugged on tall red-and-white high-heeled boots over her slim legs, raising her already impressive stance another few inches as she stepped over to the mirror to check her impression. A black-haired, slightly wavy shoulder-length wig went on over her own slightly lighter locks; Marjorie checked the fit carefully, turning to the left and right, making sure it looked natural on her; sloppy wigs had lost many a cosplay contest. Finally, with Sally acting as ‘squire’, she placed the tiara over her forehead, twisted on the wide metallic bracers, and placed the woven braid of her lasso into the clip on her waistband. Nobody really knew the truth, but the lasso had been custom-made from actual 24k gold wire; nothing else felt right.
Putting her hands on her hips in the iconic superheroine pose, Marjorie turned slowly, watching her reflection in the mirror, looking for any slight imperfection that might mar her representation of Wonder Woman.
Sally looked on silently, somewhat in awe. “Wow...” she eventually managed, not even hiding her gawking at the exquisite avatar that had appeared before her; it actually felt like she was in the presence of Amazon royalty.
“It’ll do,” Marjorie shrugged, her hairdo bouncing seductively as she moved. “Say, don’t you have a costume to get into too?” she turned to her friend, who still had on her street clothes.
“Not a big deal; I’m playing... a ballerina statue. Got on my workout leotard under this and found a pair of toe shoes at the Sally Anne. You’re the one everybody is going to be looking at, after all.”
“I suppose so,” Marjorie granted, feeling a little better knowing she was going to be a star, even for a rinky-dink video like this one. “I’ll see you in makeup...” she said in parting, walking – no, striding – towards the locker room door. Sally ogled, enraptured by the sway of Marjorie’s spandex-coated figure.
Wonder Woman had much the same effect on the male cast and crew when she emerged from a brief make-up session (just a little extra blusher and mascara) and stepped back onto the set. All eyes were on her; Chad bit his tongue. He had almost let out a wolf-whistle that would have gone totally unappreciated.
“You look... amazing!” he managed, keeping his eyes looking into hers despite the true wonders to be seen further down. “Got your lines memorized?”
“Thanks. I’ll be ready,” Marjorie smiled and the room got much brighter and warmer. In truth, words weren’t anything she ever worried about; among her many other blessings, she had a nearly photographic memory. One glance at the script page was all she needed.
“Super; let’s meet your co-star for this little epic,” Chad recovered, reigning his emotions in check though he quickly turned away to hide the growing bulge in his trousers. “I’d like you to meet...”
“...Bruce Hopkins.” Marjorie’s smile turned icy cold. “We’ve met,” she said, without offering any greeting.
He was dressed in a natty single-breasted suit, with a teal triangle of cloth peeking out from his jacket pocket, matching the like-colored tie he wore. In one hand he held a long cigarette holder with a snuffed-out smoke in it. His hair had been slicked back with too much gel and he had on wire-rimmed glasses. There was a dead caterpillar of a mustache glued to his upper lip. Combined with his slight build, it was clear why he had been chosen to play the minor role made famous by the great Roddy McD.
“Hello, Marjorie,” he replied, with equal lack of warmth. “How ya been?”
As the silence stretched, Bruce continued the conversation out onto thin ice. “I’ve been fine, too. Just working on schoolwork and stuff; keeping busy. Heard you’ve made quite a splash on the interwebs, with that fetish site of yours. I can see why...” his voracious eyes didn’t stay on hers.
“Cosplay isn’t fetish,” she replied aloofly, wanting to wrap her arms around her exposed cleavage, but at the same time not wanting to give him the satisfaction of doing so. Wonder Woman wouldn’t react to being leered at; neither should she. Stay in character; be strong...
She turned to face Chad, ignoring Bruce as best she could. “Let’s just do this thing so I can get out of here,” she fussed.
“Yeah. Right... OK, places, everyone. Let’s do a run-through. Background? Props?” he announced.
“Right here,” replied one of Chad’s crew, handing Bruce a silver-colored bracer similar to the ones Marjorie wore and lighting his cigarette.
“We don’t need to do another rehearsal,” Marjorie said tersely. “That is, unless he thinks we need one,” she glanced daggers at Bruce, who was moving his lips, reciting silently.
“I’ll be OK, as long as you are,” he replied. Marjorie bristled and began a retort.
Chad jumped in, starting to understand all that talk about ‘creative differences...’ “Great! All-righty then. Places! Let’s get the extras in position! I’ll be doing the off-screen lines for Moreaux; we can loop in the real voice later...”
Despite his directorial urgings, it took a couple of minutes before everyone was on their marks for the start of the scene: Wonder Woman would enter the artist’s cluttered workshop that was seemingly occupied only by motionless lifelike statues. The guys playing the frozen artworks took their positions and held them stiffly, but Marjorie didn’t see Sally around anywhere; she knew she’d really be pissed if, after this whole big build-up, that she had flaked out at the last moment. Chad didn’t seem bothered, so she put the matter out of her head.
Eventually, everyone was ready; the camera guys got their red lights on, signaling ‘speed’, and Chad finally directed, “Action!”
The fight scene went well; Marjorie had done similar events at comics conventions, she knew when to pull her punches. Unfortunately, the extras didn’t; she was forced to dodge a few close calls and got in a reflex kick that left the fisherman writhing realistically on the ground. A born method actor... Even so, the action was good enough for this kind of video. The fight wound down as Wonder Woman stood over them, triumphant and ready for more.
It was Bruce’s cue. He sauntered in casually, holding the prop bracer, unflustered by the scattered boxes and subdued artworks, nor by Wonder Woman’s imposing figure. “Welcome, he smiled, “to... my...” He paused, and the silence grew longer. “LINE?” he said at last.
Marjorie rolled her eyes.
“CUT!” yelled Chad. “It’s muu-sea-umm; Bruce. ‘Welcome to my museum.’ Say it like you’re as pleased as punch; don’t make it a question. Then Marj has a short reply, then I get a few lines, then you continue. Back and forth; just like it’s on the paper... Got it?”
“Yeah; no problem. Let’s go again,” he nodded, whether in agreement or to clear his head wasn’t entirely clear.
“OK, we’ll pick it up right at Roberts’ entrance; the fight was good. Places!” Chad ordered.
“Oh, thank God,” one of the ‘subdued’ statue henchmen on the floor muttered. “I don’t gotta do that again...”
“Quiet on set! OK, and, action!” Chad returned. Marjorie shifted slightly in place, completing her pivot so it would look like the fight had just ended.
Bruce walked in, looked at Marjorie (up; eyes UP, Chad urged silently) and greeted: “Welcome to my museum.” He’d even managed a prissy, quasi-British accent this time.
Well, that’s out of the way; she sighed mentally, launching into her reply line: “So, you lured me here purposefully. It was all planned; the art thefts, the poems..”
Chad picked up, on cue. “Yess. It was all part of an intricate choreography. You see, I knew that if we involved the IADC, ultimately you would become involved; as soon as Diana Prince solved my riddles, it was just a matter of time before she’d send you here. How boringly predictable.”
While he was speaking, Marjorie had turned slightly and looked up as if to look at the imaginary video; now she pivoted back to face ‘Roberts’: “Speaking of boring, why am I here?”
“You are about to become my latest work of art,” Bruce replied, with just the right amount of smarm.
Moreaux’s character spoke up again. “Several people who are aware of my patronage of Henry Roberts also know he plans to open his showing at the Putney Museum later this month with the unveiling of his latest work: a statue of Wonder Woman. I myself will be there for the unveiling, as will you, Wonder Woman.”
Marjorie gave an appropriately puzzled expression, hoping Bruce picked up on the cue.
He did, holding the prop bracer up so she could see it, explaining as if to a child: “This will produce an electrical signal, which will place you into a state of suspended animation. For-ev-er...” he pronounced each syllable, savoring the sound of it.
Wonder Woman held up her forearms, displaying her own bracers, stating glibly, “No thank you; I have two of my own, just like it.” From that position, she struck at him, catching Bruce off-guard. He grunted and backed away, perfectly in character as Marjorie attacked. She put more gusto into her acting than she had with the others, getting in a few good belly kicks as he weakly defended himself. It wasn’t really a fight; it was over in a few seconds.
She grabbed the faux bracer up out of the rubble on the floor as Bruce (as Roberts) cowered, gripping the replica tightly in her hand, ready to crumple the thin metal into useless junk. Glancing up at the off-screen voice, she declared proudly, “As soon as I destroy this, you are going to tell me who you are and where you are...”
Chad spoke up, reading as Moreaux: “Wait, Wonder Woman.” He paused a beat. “Henry, please do the honors...”
Roberts got to his feet and stepped over to a flimsy vertical screen that hadn’t been disturbed during the scuffle and lifted it away, revealing....
Sally! She stood in place, posed at attention, remaining stiff as a board, staring at Marjorie unblinkingly as the moments passed. She was dressed, not as a ballerina, but in what Wonder Woman instantly recognized as a Wonder Girl costume, albeit one not as nicely made as she would have wanted. Ad lib time.. “W-wonder Girl! What are you doing here,” she stumbled, obviously surprised.
Moreaux continued, “Miss Prince is unable to answer. In fact, she is unable to do much of anything right now...”
Marjorie looked back at Sally, who was giving a very convincing portrayal of a living statue. Line?? Oh, this works: “You let her go!”
Moreaux sprung his next trap: “After the NIM unit is placed on your wrist.”
“Release her; Right Now!” Wonder Woman demanded, no longer bantering around.
Moreaux was unflustered; he’d thought of that, too, “Right now, I can put an end to all of Wonder Girl’s vital functions. Would you like that, Wonder Woman?” he asked rhetorically.
Wonder Woman took a few seconds to collect her thoughts, glancing at the steadfastly still figure of Wonder Girl, then turning away, thinking of a way to escape this predicament, outwitting a foe who had seemingly thought of everything. Finally she turned back toward Roberts, handing him the bracer she’d been moments away from crushing. “You win...” she admitted dejectedly.
Moreaux didn’t gloat overmuch, but it was galling to the superheroine: “I won the moment I planned this. The rest was simply a matter of time...”
Marjorie twisted the bracer off her right forearm and handed it to Bruce, who looked at it closely before handing the same bracer back to her. “We’re good here,” he stated, with a slight smile.
Huh? What’s going on... he was supposed to swap them, after I’d swapped them when I was hidden from view, she thought furiously. Doesn’t matter; I’m not going to blow the scene over a technicality! After a barely perceptible pause, Marjorie put the faux bracer back on her arm and looked up towards the off-screen voice.
Chad, as Moreaux, continued, putting more emotion into his line reading than she would have expected. “Now, let’s see. Hands on your hips, I think.” He watched her take the pose. “Yes; that’s it. Oh, now, smile! Smile the smile you would wear for eternity, for wear it through eternity you shall...”
Marjorie stiffened her posture, broke out a broad smile and prepared to hold it as the scene was to fade to black. It’s Over! her thought sighed.
Then something happened that she hadn’t expected. Off set, there was an odd musical buzzing and what felt like a slight tingle radiated from the bracer on her wrist. That’s getting a little too realistic... she said, then realized she hadn’t spoken at all. Or moved; in fact, she now couldn’t lift a finger as she remained rooted in place, that silly grin frozen on her face. She looked like an actual living statue!
Chad read Moreaux’s final line, “Henry, say goodbye to the one person in the world who stood between us and everything in the world worth stealing...”
“Keep the cameras rolling!” she heard Chad command, instead of the expected ‘Cut’.
Marjorie couldn’t move her eyes, but she saw him when Chad walked into her field of view. He was smiling, broadly with a glint in his eye that caused chills to chase down her spine. His first action was to snap his fingers only inches away from her blankly staring eyes. She remained as glassy-eyed, unblinking, and rigid as a mannequin.
“Holy shit!” Chad gasped, “It worked....”
“I told you it would,” came the no-longer unsure voice of Bruce Hopkins. “I told you it would; today’s neuro-technology’s come a long way. Plus, I had heaping loads of help.”
“Sure did!” Sally’s voice crowed, coming from what sounded to Marjorie’s left; where she had stood during the scene. “Don’t forget, I was the one who talked miss snooty pants here into coming here in the first place, and hid the neuro units in her bracers. She’s not going to walk away from this one. The nerdy girl came up closer to where Marjorie could see and pushed the immobilized actress on the shoulder; her stiffened figure wobbled on the high heels for a few seconds before coming to rest. “You’re not so superior now, are you, now that your daddy can’t come when you call?” she chuckled. “That’s a real cute smile you got pasted on your face, too! I’ll make sure you keep it when I’m stripping you out of that costume for a little ‘personal time’ I’ve been waiting to take. Ever since I first saw you at school.” Sally leaned in close and kissed Marjorie full on the lips; even slipping in a bit of tongue.
- - -
“Hey! This isn’t funny; what’s happening? You sick fucks better let me go, right now... or else! Why can’t you hear me? Someone... HELP!” But none of the people there seemed to care.
- - -
Slowly it sank in, as the crew packed up the equipment after taking a few long circling shots of her rigid pose, that they all had been in on her capture! Just as gullible as Wonder Woman had been in the scene they’d reimagined, she had walked right into a cleverly baited trap: Damn!
Chad came up to the immobilized Marjorie and supplied a little bit more detail. “Sorry things ended up this way, Marj, but it was really mostly Bruce’s idea. He’s worked on the tech side of the immobilizer signal and knew it was possible, even as a prototype. That NIM gizmo he cooked up with Sally’s help really does work, as you now know first-hand; this isn’t just some cheap hypnosis trick that’s turned you into a lovely statue.”
Great! So nice of you to give the back story... Now, LET ME FREE! her thoughts seethed.
He continued, feeling compelled somehow to explain everything: “As it turns out, I have a term project for applied arts this semester and, like the goof-off jock you think I am, nowhere near getting my sculpture done. So guess what? You’re going to be my class assignment; I can already imagine how your rockin’ bod is going to look nude!”
As if he’d heard her earlier thoughts, Bruce appeared, saying, “Of course, we can’t let you go now; you’d go straight to the cops and there’d be an unholy fuss; the lot of us would probably end up in jail, or worse. So, after you get lacquered up and stand in for Chad’s sculpture artwork, we’ll have to find you a more permanent place; you’ll end up either in my flat as a decoration, or maybe I’ll give you to my mother so you can model clothes in her boutique. You’d probably like that; not as if you’ll ever know.”
Please, don't... I wasn’t even really that mean to you! Marjorie silently beseeched him.
“Just like that suspended animation device we used as a prototype, ours has settings too. You’re on the middle one now: immobilized, pose-able like a mannequin or doll, but still fully aware of your surroundings. A couple of notches higher is ‘zero-anima’ and you’ll turn totally inert: your body absolutely rigid and all thoughts dormant. You’ll be frozen completely.” He held up a small pad-like computer so she could see it as he typed on the screen. “Not quite termination, just in case we ever need to bring you back, but you won’t know the difference. Nighty-night, sweet Marjorie!” he said as he made the final touch to execute the sequence. There was a higher frequency warble from the same location off set as before.
No, wait... you can’t... do... thi— all her thoughts faded as her body went into suspension and her slow breathing came to an apparent standstill.
Chad, glancing appreciatively at the frozen figure, quipped, “Kinda cool how life’s imitated art, instead of the other way ‘round. Is she solid enough yet for transport?”
“Most definitely! You ready to help carry? She’s not going to be any lighter...” He tipped Marjorie’s rigid body over backwards, where Chad caught her shoulders. Bruce straddled her legs and grabbed one ankle in each hand, lifting. Her immobilized figure remained stiff as a board while they carried her to a rented van for the trip to Chad’s frat house room. He expected no trouble in explaining his new “Swedish Love Doll” to his brothers.
Sally had been doing the final clean-up, making sure there was no trace left of their being in the warehouse. She knew both of the guys owed her big-time and she was going to enjoy coming around soon to collect. Sally was still wearing her costume, since she rather liked the altered, sexier, look it gave her and she also felt an uncanny sense of empowerment when seeing herself as a superheroine. She began to understand some of the rewards of cosplay.
A few minutes later, Chad appeared, holding Bruce’s computer pad. He took a quick look at her as he typed on the screen. “Hey, Sally, I wanted to thank you again for putting it out there and getting us the prize we were hoping for.”
“No sweat; with Marjorie out of the way, I’ll have an easier time in class and I won’t have to cater to her every whim either. You going to the wrap party now? My car’s out back.”
“Yeah. About that... The fewer people who know what happened to Marjorie the better, and I’ve heard you’re not all that good at keeping secrets. Seeing what your little gizmo can do gave me an idea...” he explained, concentrating on the pad.
“Wait a minute!” Her eyes went wide as realization dawned about what he was saying and, belatedly, that she still had on her NIM unit as an accent jewel on her neck ribbon. “You’re not gonna....?” She started to back away, for all the good that did her.
“We’ll pose you pretty; count on that. So long, Sal...” Chad touched the final control and looked up at her as the stasis took place.
“No, I don’t want to be...” She managed to plead before her body quickly stiffened and her voice faded. The suspension process only took a few seconds, then Sally also became a living artwork. Ironically, she hadn’t had time to change out of her Wonder Girl costume, so she was effectively playing out the full role – and fate – of Wonder Woman’s little sister.
Bruce appeared, returning from the van, and saw Sally standing there, clearly frozen. “You idiot!” he yelled, striding up to Chad and grabbing the pad from his hands. “She wasn’t part of our bargain – only Margie was.”
“Hey, there, don’t get all spooked little buddy. I’m just taking care of loose ends, and in her case, loose lips. I kinda like her when she’s still, besides she can now keep Marj company,” Chad tried to soothe Bruce.
But he was having none of that, “You also gonna zap your beer buddies from the squad? They saw everything too. Oh, wait; you can’t, because there are only two working NIM units, and you just turned the person who knows how to build more... into a statue!” Bruce looked over at Sally, who held a very surprised expression on her frozen features with her arms raised futilely for protection.
“Relax, I can bring her back just as quick, you know; all it takes is a few touches...” Chad looked at the pad.
“And then what? You think after this little stunt, she’s gonna trust you ever again? Think again; you just burned a bridge, ‘little buddy’. Don’t do anything more in haste, without thinking it through. We need to sit down and make a plan. However, as for Sally, what’s done is done; she’s not going anywhere now, and a few days more or less in suspended animation isn’t going to make a bad situation any worse.”
“Or a few months... or years...” Chad mused, caressing Sally’s frozen cheek.
“Don’t you dare go there, yet... one step at a time,” Brad shot back, bristling.
“I don’t get it; what do we do with her?” Chad said shortly. Sally didn’t say anything.
“Stick her in the van right now, lay her down next to Margie; I think I can stash this ‘collectible’ in my apartment next to that life-sized Imperial Stormtrooper figure I got last year. At least for a few days; until things quiet down and we work things out. OK, then?” Bruce finished with a nod, fully expecting to do exactly what he’d described.
However, things seldom work out as planned...
Once again, crime had become a fine art.
Addendum: The Theory and Practice of Neural Impulse Modulation
In science fiction, the existence of a modest device to suspend all animation of (“freeze”) a human subject has been imagined numerous times; the notion has become one of the common ‘tropes’ of the genre, along with faster-than-light space drives, gravity control, time travel, and powerful compact energy sources, to name a few. Consult an online reference library for a complete listing.
Accomplishing suspended animation practically has, until recently, proven to be more difficult.
Application of intense cold can achieve the desired cessation of movement and bodily function, but at the cost of tissue damage at both the external and cellular levels. The moral and legal issues have also yet to be resolved: Is a suspended person dead or alive? What happens to their consciousness and ‘soul’ when all bodily functions have ceased? While there have been limited successes reported using animal subjects, as well as numerous anecdotal experiences, there has yet been no repeatable demonstration of human cold sleep ‘hibernation’ in the laboratory.
Hypnosis of the subject has also been able to mimic, at least externally, the motionlessness and rigidity associated with suspension for short periods of time. This illusion, however, is simply that; no actual reduction in metabolism or thought processes occurs. Hypnotized subjects also often exhibit slight movements, such as eye blinks, and these subjects invariably return to normal mobility when left on their own.
Some success has been obtained using pharmacological agents to induce catalepsy or paralysis, most commonly those compounds in the alkaloid family (curare, scopolamine) or by nonlethal doses of viral toxins such as botulinum. Induced myotonic seizures (cf. Thomsens Disease) have also shown to be possible, but there is considerable phenotypic variability. Since the basis for myotonia is genetic, a reliable synthetic agent has not been isolated, despite persistent rumors to the contrary that mention a “freeze drug” whose effects are both enduring and reversible.
However, in the late-20th and early-21st centuries, the technologies for achieving electrical or electronic suspension of animation have become practical. Following upon basic studies that employed implanted cortical electrodes to demonstrate receipt of, and later introduction of, brain wave patterns, progress in the use of non-invasive external inductors to obtain the same effects has been accomplished. Early applications by Dr. Per Nielsen [University of Stockholm, 1966] in synthesizing the patterns necessary to induce a state of myotonic catalepsy showed some initial success, although that research was subsequently lost.
A serendipitous discovery of a previously unsuspected neurologic mechanism led to a clear breakthrough in suspension of animation through application of a weak electrical current to trigger a state of cryptobiosis in the corpus of the subject. Direct connection with the brain is not required, little energy is needed to maintain the stasis, and the device is easily portable. This amazingly advance was attained not through work by a corporate research department or department of defense study, but by a small group of student entrepreneurs funded under an anonymous bequest. Their ‘Neural Impulse Modulator’ (or NIM) technique is expected to find immediate applications in the medical field, especially in trauma situations, as well as personal safety. Use of the NIM technology to suspend the animation of astronauts during long-term spaceflight is an obvious opportunity as well, but as of this writing the device has not been flight-qualified and is undergoing rigorous testing on long-term effects to the suspended subjects. Early indications are extremely promising.
The NIM remote unit, or “button”, is extremely compact, having similar dimensions to a hearing-aid battery (since the housing, in fact, contains one), allowing it to be placed in a variety of positions in order to obtain the necessary contact with the skin; although signal conduction through fabrics and metal mesh has been demonstrated, this is not recommended as the desired stasis effect may be intermittent or inconsistent. When activated, the NIM unit delivers a slight electrical current at a specific frequency and pattern to the subject, inducing an electronic state of suspended animation. Induction intensity may be varied, permitting intermediate levels of stasis and rigidity to be achieved. Full suspension, at the highest level, occurs within five seconds for subjects of nominal body mass and composition. Once suspension has been induced, only an occasional “booster” pulse is necessary to maintain stasis as long as required. Each NIM remote unit is uniquely keyed; many such remotes can be controlled by one base station. Continuous contact with the base unit is not required for the remote to maintain state; if contact is lost, the remote will independently maintain the stasis level last set. Thus, subjects who have been suspended may be transported without fear of inadvertent reanimation.
Communications between the NIM unit and the base station is implemented via either wireless network protocol (Wi-Fi) over short ranges, or via connection to a standard cellular telephone network (WCDMA, GPRS, etc.) over longer distances. Contact with the remote unit is AES-2 encrypted, using a pre-shared key established when the remote unit is ‘paired’ with the base. It is virtually impossible to ‘hijack’ a NIM remote unit, though full NSA certification is pending.
The base station is primarily software; it can be deployed in a variety of form factors, ranging from the briefcase-sized prototype control station to portable laptop computers and ‘smart’ devices such as cellphones and tablets that can connect with the remote unit. Controls permit the selection of an individual NIM remote and the setting of the suspension level. Timed, or scheduled, activation as well as deactivation is supported, as is fine-grained selection of the level via a near-continuous ‘analog’ user interface. Setting ‘profiles’ for individual subjects can be stored for future use or triggered activation. Access to the base station (smart devices only) requires authentication via a user-chosen passphrase key. The base station maintains an access and usage log of all commands issued to the associated NIM remote units.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What happens if the NIM remote loses
contact with the subject’s body while they are
A: If contact is lost, re-animation occurs within a short period of time, typically less than a minute.
Q: How long does the battery in the NIM unit last?
A: Long-term duration testing has not been performed; however with similar applications such as in hearing aids, these batteries have been proven to supply the necessary level of current for up to several years.
Q: If the NIM base station is destroyed, can the associated remotes be accessed?
A: Due to the security techniques being employed, there is no supported method for controlling an NIM remote if the encryption key has been lost. Ensure that the base station configuration is backed up frequently and store backups in a protected location.