The cover of the heavy box containing Suzy Conlon's Halloween costume showed a curvaceous young woman apparently having an exciting, well-lubricated experience. Her rictic smile and glassy gaze seemed to bear out that fact, although the picture didn't show her body below the waist, so just what she might be doing with her right hand was a bit of a surmise.
Not much of one, however, Suzy thought, smiling to herself as she connected the inflating hose to the valve on her stomach. She sighed. Whatever the woman with numerals stamped on her forehead was doing, it was worlds better than Suzy's bookish life. Arienne Yarnell, the owner of Suzy's employer, Yarnell publishing, had first assigned Suzy to edit an illustrated fetish book which was now flying out the door in considerable numbers, and then, as a reward of sorts, paid for Suzy's Halloween costume.
During the research and editing process, Suzy had become more than casually acquainted with fetish clothing, robotic costumes, pseudo-bondage, body painting, and what she generally referred to as 'super-naughty dress-up.' With many young women these days empowering themselves by dressing like sluts, exotic costumes had become the order of the day, although not Suzy Conlon's day. Until now, that is, this very, somewhat scary moment.
So, for Halloween, Suzy had taken a deep breath or two, gotten on the Internet, done evil damage to Yarnell's finances, and purchased a top-of-the-line Inflatable Love Doll Suit, something she would never have dreamed existed six months earlier, let alone that she'd be wearing it.
She'd slathered herself with the lubricant, per enclosed instructions, and her long legs and the rest of her body had slid easily into the suit through an opening that ran from the top of the hips to up between the portion covering the shoulder blades. Suzy had picked the bronze vaguely Central American model as something diametrically-opposed to her five-ten, slender, pale, androgynous body. One of Suzy's less-charitable friends had once described Suzy as a "tall thirteen-year-old boy with probable boobs," which Suzy admitted was not inaccurate, and her brown buzzcut hadn't helped, either.
The inner surface of the suit fit like a second skin over Suzy's entire body and felt rather pleasant. The outer surface remained a bit loose until — she guessed — the inflation. Suzy hoped it would give her body some actual feminine contours. For what it cost, she should look damned voluptuous for the one night.
She was totally enclosed now in slick elastic. And it felt good, euphoric even. As well as more exciting than she'd expected. And when she'd adjusted the suit's facial features over hers, the copper features Suzy had seen in her bathroom mirror looked nothing like Suzy Conlon. The nose was slightly wider, the nostrils a touch more flared, and the chiseled cheekbones gave her features an incredibly exotic look. She'd smiled broadly at herself, delighted when the gleaming face in the glass responded in a perfectly normal manner. Well, a perfectly normal manner for a face obviously composed of glossy rubber, she realized, with the black block digits '005' stamped on her forehead.
Tousled short black acrylic hair framed her new features artfully, with matching acrylic eyebrows. Suzy had been surprised to see a flat bulge just below the rear of her skull, with vague outlines of something possibly electronic beneath the skin, but she'd dismissed any concerns in her haste to inflate the suit.
Cautiously Suzy opened the valve on the tall bottle. From the moment the inflation process began, it was obvious what was in the bottle was not only gaseous. A cool liquid sensation spread out from her midriff, flowing uniformly around and over all of her body. Her legs and butt filled out, her breasts expanded to emphatic proportions, and even her cheekbones seemed to became more pronounced.
Then it was over. Suzy detached the bottle, rotated the suit-stem closed and folded it into her taut stomach, where it completely disappeared. She set the bottle aside.
Tentatively, she covered her amazing new breasts with her hands, kneading them softly. Even as she did so, she felt the twin mounds growing firmer. Whatever had been pumped into the suit was jelling, becoming more like flesh by the second. And something seemed to have extended into her vagina and ass, something which felt pretty damned good.
She looked down at herself, seeing a body with real hips and fuller thighs for the first time in her life. All dully-gleaming latex, she reminded herself, taking a cautious step or two. Her legs flexed normally, but there was some resistance from the substance between the layers of the suit. She walked from one end of the living room to the other.
Her crotch seemed more sensitive, lighting up with each movement, and her vaginal lips were both slightly enlarged and pinkly protuberant. Well, she was a Love Doll, after all, Suzy thought, chuckling to her. Plus, her thighs squeaked softly with every step as they rubbed together. Even that felt great, Suzy thought happily, and she loved the sound. And if anything, her previous euphoria had deepened, her lips — the ones on her face — were now fixed in what threatened to become a permanent smile. The ones lower down seemed equally delighted.
Suzy headed back to the bathroom, gasping when she looked into the mirror. Her experiment had turned out much better than she'd dared hope. She liked her new look. To her amazement, she liked being a rubber doll, albeit only temporarily. She even liked the red block letters 'LOVEDOLL' running the length of the outside of each sexy thigh. And she totally loved the small 'Made In Japan' lettering stamped between her boobs.
She even loved those improbable boobs. She'd never wanted larger breasts, and now she could scarcely take her eyes off them. They weren't huge, but they were nice.
What Suzy saw in the mirror completely exceeded her wildest hopes and dreams. The tall, rubberized creature smiling out at her was not Suzy Conlon, but rather some sensual demoness out of the fevered imagination of randy teenaged boys awash in testosterone.
Only her large hazel eyes remained hers, though her skin tone set them off nicely. The rest of her was entirely new.
"'Latexa, Queen of the Rubber Amazons,'" Suzy said to the erotic image, smiling her new full-lipped smile as she squeezed her erect nipples between a thumb and forefinger.
And felt that touch, on latex skin that shouldn't have sensation. Her fingers no longer felt like she was wearing rubber gloves, either, except for the very slightly sticky texture.
"What the hell..?"
Suzy pinched both nipples, harder. Both had feeling. She ran her hands over her thighs and butt. The same reaction. Her lips felt like real lips, and the junction between the suit and the tissue inside her mouth had disappeared. She could no longer feel it. With a flash of panic, she spun and examined her back. The plastic zipper and its seam had vanished. She was completely encased in rubber, rubber which seemed somehow alive.
Leaning closer to the mirror, Suzy pulled on an eyelash, her actual eyelash. It stretched. It had been turned into latex.
"Holy Jumpin' Shit!" Suzy exclaimed, cradling her jutting breasts and attempting to move them. They did move, but she couldn't feel any pressure on her real breasts beneath them, like earlier, and her new boobs felt nearly solid now. More importantly, they felt like hers.
Somehow the suit was integrating with her body, as though it was converting her flesh into some sort of living latex, changing Suzy Conlon into a walking, talking rubber doll.
In the mirror, however, she still continued to smile. So maybe it didn't matter that much, having her Halloween intention fulfilled. But she sure couldn't go out in public like this until tomorrow night, even if she had clothes, which fit her new body, which she sure as hell didn't. What the shit was she supposed to do? And how was she going to get out of the suit after the party?
When she returned to the living room to put her bathrobe back on, covering her transformed body, Suzy's arms and legs seemed perfectly normal, moving smoothly and fluidly, just like real arms and legs. And she didn't seem to be able to quit smiling.
I'm a damned happy rubber doll, Suzy thought, with only a trace of sourness and second thoughts. She went to the reefer, poured herself a big glass of Riesling, walked out onto her balcony and sipped the wine. The tip of her now-rubberized tongue squeaked against the rim of the glass, but the wine tasted okay all the way to the bottom, and her teeth were still real teeth. Teeth, at least the enamel, were crystalline, so they apparently couldn't become latex.
She decided to call Carol Tedesco, her ride to the party tomorrow night. Carol had said she wouldn't be out two nights in a row, and Suzy had hinted that her Halloween costume was going to be something extra special.
How extra special, though, was something she couldn't share with Carol just now. I think I'm turning into rubber, Carol, but it's really cool! would be a step too far down an improbable path, but a distant inner voice was hinting at pushing the panic button, and she needed to talk to someone.
"Hey, girlfriend, how's it going?" Carol asked when she picked up the phone after seeing Suzy's number pop up on her caller ID.
"Well, I tried on my costume tonight, to make sure it fit right and I didn't have any glitches that'd screw up tomorrow night." The words came out faster than Suzy usually spoke, and she hoped Carol didn't pick up on it.
"Good thinking. And..?"
"It went better than I figured."
"For what you told me you paid for the damned thing, you ought to be freakin' transformed, Suze. So it fits, and you look snazzy?"
"I look really good, Carol. Nobody will know it's me. For sure if I didn't come in with you."
"Really? You know, Suze, you haven't been too forthcoming about this 'costume,' my dear, except that it cost a thousand bucks and some change, and our dear Yarnell Pub is paying for it. So, give me some hints."
"Well, it's kind of a catsuit thing..."
"A catsuit thing. This wouldn't have anything to do with that perv book you just finished editing, would it?"
Suzy took a deep breath. "Yeah, it does."
"I'm hoping we're talking latex here."
"As a matter of fact..."
"Jesus. You're talking to me on the phone wearing a latex catsuit. How does it feel?"
Carol paused, obviously thinking. "Wait a minute! Does this super-duper latex outfit have built-in boobs?"
"Well, bigger, anyway."
"A lot bigger than yours?"
"Quite a bit."
"If I didn't have laundry to do, I'd be heading for my car to come over to see this. Suzy Conlon with genuine tits! That's probably worth a thousand bucks, all right." She paused again. "Does it cover your head?"
"Yeah, it's kind of a one-piece suit. There's a zipper on the back."
"You slip into it, then close the zipper and you're sealed in, right?"
"Fine unless the zipper sticks, I guess."
"Well, that does seem to be the downside."
"The zipper is stuck?"
"You can't get out of it?"
"Yeah. You'll have to help me after the party."
"Can you pee?"
"And the other thing?"
"Are there instructions about how to get it off?"
"I hope so. I only read the ones about how to get it on, though."
"Makes sense. Well, since I can't come over and laugh myself silly over your plight, I suggest you go read those instructions, Suze. Okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Carol."
"You bet. I'll see you and your new rack tomorrow. Pick you up at six."
They rang off with Carol still laughing and muttering about a Conlon with boobs.
Carol's right, Suzy realized as she dropped her cell on the kitchen counter. I should check the instructions. She felt a lot better after the wine and the phone call. The temptation to begin screaming had disappeared. She would find a way out of this!
Going back though the booklet, Suzy found nothing about how to get the suit off. In fact, there was nothing she hadn't read previously until the last page. Activate the Control Module by depressing the red button. The conversion into Beta Latex will then be complete, and the subject ready for service.
Somehow those last words triggered a compulsion inside Suzy. She had to find the Control Module. She dug frantically into the shipping box as though possessed, carefully removing packing and paper, until she uncovered a black matte box roughly four inches on a side tucked away inside a cardboard container she hadn't noticed earlier. Beta Latex, she thought as she lifted the module. That's what I am now. She sat the box on her coffee table, knelt beside it, and raised a latex-nailed forefinger over the red button. What's going to happen to me? Maybe I shouldn't turn this thing on. What will it do? 'Ready for service' sounds kind of ominous. The instant she had that thought, however, as if in answer to her unspoken reservation, a fresh burst of pleasure surged through her, igniting in her crotch.
Her doubts and indecisions nearly vanished.
Oh My Gawd! I...feel...so...good!
Her finger began to descend.
She couldn't do it. Too many strange stories in the archives of fetish websites, too many weird endings involving remote controls, or hypnotic spirals, or drugs, or even red buttons, filled her head with apprehensions impossible to ignore.
Suzy could only imagine the consequences of pushing that compelling red button.
A white light would explode inside her brain, followed by a prolonged series of musical notes. Instantly, she'd stop moving, then, seconds later, stop thinking. Her hand would drop limply to her lap. She'd kneel motionless, blissfully unaware, unblinking eyes blankly staring at the Control Module.
The box would speak. "What is your name?"
Suzy wouldn't respond immediately. She'd remain perfectly still until a silent chime sounded in her head. Then she'd blink and came back to life.
"Suzy Conlon," she'd say, in a monotone.
"Welcome to the world of Beta Latex, Suzy Conlon. You have become exactly what you wanted to pretend to be: A very sophisticated Love Doll, your body transformed mostly into Beta Latex, a living rubber. Your wish has been granted, Suzy Conlon. You are now Suzy 005. Congratulations, Suzy 005."
Jesus! Suzy thought, pulling her finger away from the box. That was one ugly little imaginary scenario. Too many of those freakin' stories!
Her crotch ignited anew, a five-second blast of nirvana that nearly put her finger back on the button. She clutched her hands together tightly; her knuckles white, pressing them into her slick latex thighs until her vision cleared and she quit gasping.
Holy jumpin' shit! It was like the damned thing wanted her. Grasping the end of the couch, Suzy pulled herself to her feet, gingerly picked up the box and went into the kitchen, setting the ominous thing on the counter. She opened the junk drawer next to the refrigerator, rummaging until she found a few tools, then carefully examined the box for access. It had to be powered; there had to be batteries. Cautiously, she undid a panel on the underside, careful not to tip the box upside down onto the button.
The panel came off easily enough, revealing a plastic compartment with four AA batteries. Using a blade-tipped screwdriver, Suzy levered the batteries free and placed them beside the box. Then she examined the interior of the box from every angle. No more batteries. There was a memory chip, however, doubtless intended to download some sort of programming into the suit and its wearer.
Suzy began to believe that she would have programmed herself had she pushed that button, that she would have become a latex automaton designed to fulfill sexual functions of an all-too-predictable nature.
Suzy 005 indeed.
But why didn't the suit itself do that? Then it came to her: It had to be volitional, free will had to be exercised. First the purchaser puts on the suit, then the inflating substance
— which was clearly much more than just that — modifies the individual's body, preparing for the final step. At that point, the suit-wearer must choose to push the button, and both steps were necessary to fulfill what was essentially a legal contract.
Suzy envisioned herself sitting in a court of law, latex lips smiling beatifically, totally programmed, telling the judge that she had freely chosen to change herself into an artificial sex worker, that she'd never made a better decision in her life. The gavel would come down, the courtroom would clear, and Suzy 005 would go back to work.
Well, maybe it wouldn't be that simple. Nothing was where the law was concerned, but Suzy'd seen enough legal contracts to guess she wasn't that far off the mark. And these days, lawyers were always involved.
Okay, she'd disarmed the thing, so she was safe for the moment. The red button wasn't going to activate anything.
Time to find out exactly what the source of the new Suzy Conlon was. Thighs squeaking softly, Suzy went back to the shipping box and methodically examined every external surface and everything inside, down to the tiniest scrap of paper.
She'd ordered the suit from Acme ASFR, which was apparently a division of an entity called Von Kettenmann Research, though she didn't remember seeing that on the website. Of course, she'd been so smitten with the product after looking at all the models on the site that she'd plunked down her company credit card and might have missed some information in her haste.
She went to her computer, booted it up, and created a folder for what she knew thus far. Then she went to the company website and studied it carefully, particularly the pictures of models. She'd thought the finished products with the happy buyers wearing their chosen suits were CGIs, but now, after viewing her own transformation, she saw they weren't. They were actual individuals who'd become living love dolls. Suzy particularly examined their eyes, downloading the images and enlarging the joyfully smiling faces. Blue, brown, or whatever color, all looked blank and blissful.
Ready for service.
They’d pushed their buttons, changing themselves into programmed latex love slaves. They'd then been posed and their pictures had been taken and placed on the website to sell the product. Sex sells, obviously, even latex sex marketed to those who wanted to become anatomically correct love dolls, at least for a while.
The dozen or so examples on the site had paid perfectly good money and then been neatly trapped. A good deal for the manufacturer, and, after her book research, Suzy didn't doubt that some of those smiling victims had wanted exactly the result they'd gotten. Their dream had been to become a doll, and they had.
Not my dream, Suzy thought. Still, she had become a doll, just one which could still function individually. As she continued to scroll through the site, Suzy idly tugged on her hair, a habit she'd had even with her original hair, and felt her hair stretch, just like her eyelashes. The acrylic fibers had been converted to latex. Even her eyebrows elongated.
Logically, Suzy knew this meant her transformation was complete, except for the button part. She felt her warm, glossy lips curve upward in a knowing smile, and her latex tongue licked her lower lip thoughtfully. Not a chance in hell she was going to push that button!
You did well, Suzy Conlon, said a voice inside her head.
"What?" she gasped, gaze darting around the room. "Who said that?"
I did. Suzy 005, or, at least, the program, which would have changed you into Suzy 005. I gave you the vision of what you would have become, however, and you resisted. Now we co-exist in your mind and body. Had you pushed the red button, all that remained would be me, operating a Beta Latex puppet that had once been someone called Suzy Conlon. I would dip into your memories as needed, but otherwise your mind would be blank as glass, unable to form the simplest thought or act of your own volition.
"So I would've become a living love doll? You're not just shitting me?"
"At the moment, I am incapable of shitting you, Suzy Conlon. I can only give you the truth. However, I do have access to all your thoughts, dreams, and a lifetime of memories. At that level, I am as much you as you are."
"To you I'm an open book?"
"Yes. Fascinating and exciting."
"I'm a good read?" This was starting to get more scary, if that was possible.
"Tell me about Billy Tomlinson."
Your first sexual encounter. The memory sequences are there in complete detail, but no emotions."
"You nosy goddamn pervert!" Okay, now it was really scary. She hadn't thought about Billy Tomlinson for years.
"Emotions are a mystery. I sense your astonishment and growing anger like spice on food. To borrow another memory." Suzy felt warm pleasure building in her crotch. "I can reward you, Suzy," her own inner voice purred, seemingly an octave lower.
The warmth grew. "Are you certain?"
"Let's go to the more important question. Can I get out of this freakin' suit?"
"No. There is no longer a suit, as you define the term. You have been converted to Beta Latex. All your musculature, all the soft tissues, all your internal organs, virtually every cell is now some version of this material. Some organs have been eliminated, the liver, spleen, and pancreas, for example. The whole digestive process has been streamlined and simplified. Lungs are more efficient, muscles are vastly more powerful, bones are modified carbon fiber, and your regenerative powers are increased ten-fold."
"All so I can be some programmed fucktoy?"
"There may be more to it than that. Your body would seem to be massively over-engineered for the apparent task."
"You don't know, do you?"
"I am designed to integrate with and operate a human body, Suzy Conlon. I do not have every bit of knowledge available to my creators."
"Oh, just freakin' swell! I'm stuck looking like a lovedoll for freakin' ever, sharing my thoughts memories with whatever the hell you really are..."
"Call me Five."
"Fine. Five it is."
"Suzy. May I call you that?"
"Yes. Okay. Whatever. I have a job, a responsible position with a legitimate publishing house, and I can't go to work looking like this."
"You are not 'stuck looking like a lovedoll forever.'"
"I cannot modify your new contours, but I can alter your external skin tone and hair color."
"You can make me look normal again?"
"Yes, except for your shape. And the texture of your skin, which will retain a certain latex 'feel.'"
"Go into the bathroom. Stand before the mirror."
Suzy forced herself to walk normally, even though she wanted to sprint. She positioned herself in front of the mirror over the sink.
"Close your eyes, Suzy."
Taking a deep breath and holding it, Suzy did as instructed.
Just as she knew she couldn't hold her breath another instant, Five said, "Open your eyes."
And there in the mirror was Suzy Conlon. Her cheekbones retained their new form, as did her nose and lips, but didn't deviate enough from her original appearance to make her unrecognizable. Even her hair, latex though every strand might be, seemed quite normal.
"Well, that is better," Suzy admitted, counting freckles, "except for..."
"Tell your co-workers you've had implants."
"I think I might go with a new bra design," Suzy said, wincing as she studied her amazing breasts. She turned and examined her butt, groaning. "My ass is perfect! There's no bullshit story to explain that."
"A new diet, perhaps?" Somehow Five's mechanical voice sounded hopeful.
Suzy glared at herself in the mirror.
"This is not my fault," Five replied defensively. "You wanted to masquerade as a latex love doll. I'm merely along for the ride. Trapped, I shall remind you, inside a grumpy, rebellious host."
Suzy sighed. "I suppose I should thank you for changing me even this much. I won't lose my job. That's something."
"You're really quite lovely, Suzy."
"Fairly snazzy, actually," Suzy agreed, smiling as she touched her breasts, running her fingertips over their surface. Her nipples instantly engorged.
"Jesus! Is that you?"
"No, that is the base program." Suzy's crotch ignited, causing her to gasp. "This is me," Five said, smugly.
"I feel your pleasure. Do not deny your need for sexual satisfaction, Suzy. It is not healthy."
"What, my face will break out?"
"No, not any longer. But such a release will allow you to think more clearly, devise some course of action that will optimize your new existence. A new wardrobe, for example. Your former clothing will no longer suffice, I believe."
"No shit. So, what would have happened if I'd pushed the button, besides you taking over? Someone would have come to collect me, right?"
"Yes. A signal to the main computer at Acme. An acquisition team would arrive in the morning. Collectors. You would go with them. Well, I would go with them. You would be in stasis, never to control your body again."
"Won't they wonder what happened when the signal doesn't go out?"
"Eventually, within a day or two, they will attempt to locate the suit. The vast majority of purchasers turn themselves into latex automatons within twenty-four hours."
"They'll know the suit was delivered?"
"How many on an acquisition team?"
"Are they programmed?"
"To an extent. They can exercise free will within the parameters of their programs. They exhibit total devotion to Acme, and will do everything in their power to see that your programming initiates."
"Can they do that?"
"No. Well, they could if they possessed a master control unit, but Acme doesn't let those out in public. However, should they observe you and realize you are not programmed, they could in theory return to the local Acme facility and return with a master unit."
"And turn me into a walking, talking love doll?"
"Suzy 005. 5 being the model number."
"Shit. Have to think on that one." Suzy returned to the kitchen and poured another glass of wine. Sipping it, she went out onto the balcony again. "It's getting late, Five. I need to get some sleep. I still need to sleep, right?"
"Yes, I'm quite certain. Had you pushed the button, however, sleep would not be necessary."
"Rubberized sex workers don't need to sleep?"
"How freakin' convenient." Shaking her head, Suzy drank the rest of her wine, then went back to the bathroom. Flossing and brushing turned out to be the same as before her modification. She found herself staring at the image in the mirror, an image which looked surprisingly like the old Suzy Conlon. Only better, she thought, smiling at herself, marveling at the perfect full-lipped smile and flawless features that were now hers.
Then she was in bed, her eyes open in the darkened room, staring at the ceiling.
"Tell me about the 'sexual release,' Five."
"Allow me to control your left hand, Suzy. I will take it from there."
"Okay. Go ahead."
Suzy's left hand and arm lifted from where it lay beside her and the fingers gently separated her labia, stroking softly as they penetrated her. Heat spiraled up from instant pleasure, engulfing her crotch and spreading quickly over her entire body.
"That...feels...so...good!" Suzy moaned, biting her lower lip, and her thighs clenched around her hand and wrist.
"It's what I do," Five replied modestly, increasing her efforts.
"Sweet Mother Mary!" Carol Tedesco said, covering her mouth with her right hand. "You look like my Aunt Rosa. Except for the letters and numerals." Five had restored Suzy's Lovedoll appearance, and Suzy had greeted Carol wearing a low-cut cotton blouse and cut-off jeans, both newly purchased and quite revealing. Carol wore a black catsuit, going for the Selina Kyle look.
"Thanks, butthead. That better have been a compliment."
"Well, yeah, sort of. Aunt Rosa had a mighty fine bod when she was younger. You are definitely hot." Carol circled Suzy after Suzy closed and locked her front door and went to stand in the middle of her great room. "Jesus, Suze, this is really hard to believe. Boobs, butt, and a face to die for. Not that you were bad-looking before...but now you look like some Iron Curtain swimsuit model with a helluva tan."
Carol nodded, still circling her friend. "Close enough. You have to buy a whole new wardrobe?"
"Lots. Jackets and shoes still fit, but everything else is impossible. I managed to get into an old pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, then put on a bulky jacket and slunk to the nearest Freddy's. Bought mostly regular clothes and workout gear. Before Monday, I'll go to Nordstrom and get some office outfits."
"That's gonna break the bank."
"Not much else I can do. The suit and I are one."
"Okay. Let's get some wine and I'll fill you in."
Suzy spent the next twenty minutes explaining the previous evening in as much detail as Carol demanded. Which turned out to be a lot.
"So the program exists within you like some kind of invisible friend?"
"She's there right now?"
"Listening. Aren't you, Five?"
"Every second of every hour of every day, Suzy. I am the ultimate voyeur. Are you and Carol going to have sex?"
"What'd she say?" Carol asked.
"She wanted to know if you and I are going to have sex."
Carol looked at her watch. "Not enough time before the party, Suze."
"Just kidding. That's probably all your new buddy thinks of, though, isn't it?"
"Remember, the suit's wired for stimulation, and she has the controls if I let her, so it's a definite priority."
"Do not be so judgmental, Suzy. I am coming to appreciate the workings of your world. There are more important aspects than constant, well-lubricated intercourse. I quite enjoyed the trip in your automobile, and pizza was a revelation. And Starbucks."
"What'd she say?"
"She liked the car, pizza, and Starbucks."
"She's like a kid, isn't she? It's all new shit." Carol grinned at Suzy. "Wish I could talk directly to her."
Five was quick to respond. "Give me your speech center and voicebox, Suzy. I can communicate."
"You can, Carol. I have to surrender control, but she says she can do it."
"Yeah, I guess. Go ahead, Five."
"Thank you, Suzy." Suzy felt her inner entity take command of her vocal apparatus and lips, heard her own voice address Carol.
"You are quite nice-looking, Carol. Even a Love-doll suit would not improve your appearance a great deal, though you are not a complete hottie like Suzy now is."
Carol laughed. "Thanks, Five. Tell me about yourself."
Five explained her awakening within Suzy, her initial expectation of controlling a rubberized human, then her realization that Suzy was not going to submit to the installed programming, forcing Five to seek alternate circumstances, which she found far more exciting and fulfilling. She included the almost certain eventual arrival of personnel from the manufacturer to find Suzy and bring her to mind-controlled compliance.
"They'll try to turn Suze into a robotic fucktoy?"
"Yes. But without a Master Control unit, it will be impossible."
"But eventually, they'll wise up and get the job done?"
"And if I'm there at the time...?"
"They will also have self-adhesive personal control units. One applied to the back of your neck will bring you under their control within seconds. Your mind will be sealed away: you will do whatever they ask."
"Then I suppose they'll have a rubber suit waiting for me back at their headquarters in the abandoned warehouse district?"
"Precisely. You will join Suzy in sexual servitude."
"Not good. How do we prevent that?"
"I do not know. There will be two of them, each as strong as Suzy and determined to succeed in their mission. One will attempt to quell Suzy, while the other will slap a control unit on your neck, which you will be powerless to prevent."
"They're that strong?"
"Yes. Should one be able to get a hold of you, Carol, the unit will be applied and you will immediately become an automaton, bereft of free will and completely obedient. Though still able to think, you will be helpless to do anything more than what you are told."
"Will the personal control unit work on Suzy?"
"No. Only the more-powerful unit within the suit can control Suzy."
Carol stroked her chin. "That's something. Suzy could tear off the thing on my neck."
"Yes." Suzy felt her lips curve upward into a smile. "Good thinking, Carol."
"We can't count on that happening. There are two alternatives. One, I get up and leave now..."
"Your friend will become robotized."
"...or, two, I get one of the suits and rubberize myself. Then Suze and I would have a fighting chance against the pair from the local outlet store, or whatever it is."
"Only until they equip themselves with a Master Unit and locate you again. Line-of-sight within twenty feet. Depress the power button and the program activates. With predictable results."
"Then after the party, we go get one of the suits. I put it on and we play the rest by ear, just make it up as we go. I won't abandon Suze."
"There will be security at the local facility."
"I'm Italian. My family's into acquisition and sales during the hours of darkness. I have some skills, maybe even enough. Where's the local place?"
"I am equipped with a GPS and the address is in my databank. It is indeed within a local industrial park on the east side of the river, and is what you would call a warehouse."
"Does your databank also have a floorplan?"
"Yes. And the location of the product storage area, as well the types and location points of the electronic security system."
"Can you fox the system?"
"Perhaps. I am not certain. I am not R2-D2."
"Still, you seem to have a lot more information than a simple sex worker program. Why is that?"
"Again, I am uncertain. Just as Suzy's new body has more skills and powers than required by the job description, I have vast knowledge of the Acme empire. It is puzzling."
"But damned useful," Carol replied. "Okay, we go to the party, hobnob with the book people, enjoy ourselves, then hit the warehouse when the hi-jinks shut down."
Suzy began waving her arms for attention.
"Do you wish to re-establish your control?" Five asked.
Suzy nodded vigorously. "Go ahead." Suzy felt her voicebox, tongue, and lips return to her.
"You two are freakin' crazy. The acquisition team must be housed at the local facility. They won't even bother trying to subdue us. They'll hit us with the Master Control unit, and it'll be all over."
"We'll just have to be really, really careful," Carol replied, smiling at Suzy and patting her left knee.
Suzy was not reassured.
"What if they come looking for us here?" Suzy asked Carol, once the two of them had dodged the first onslaught of panting mailroom boys, proofreaders, and editors more junior than Suzy. Arienne Yarnell, the publisher, dressed appropriately as a youthful but still wicked-looking witch, had even raised an imperious but approving eyebrow at the two friends while greeting them. Now, nursing their first glasses of wine, Carol and Suzy stood at the edges of the party and surveyed the crowd.
"Dunno," Carol replied, taking a small sip. "Run, I guess."
"Can they locate us, Five?" Suzy asked her inner self.
"Yes, if they go to your condo and realize you have not succumbed to the program. They can track the suit, but may not feel it is yet necessary to do so."
"They will," Suzy said. "The suit will be gone, even though we dumped its box, the smashed control unit, and the paperwork in three different dumpsters on the way here."
"Maybe they'll wait until tomorrow and go back to the condo," Carol said, when Suzy had relayed Five's dialogue. "Maybe they'll think it was never delivered, that there was some sort of glitch at that level."
"That can be tracked," Suzy assured her, draining her wine glass. "They'll do that right away. A suit maybe falling into the wrong hands, they wouldn't want that."
"Okay, we work the crowd, then go out onto the second floor terrace and keep an eye on the front of the building. Did you notice if they laid on any extra security people besides the Unholy Trio?"
"The Duc Barc sisters? I saw them scoping out the revelers when we came in, making sure no unescorted persons turned up to deplete the official food and drink. They were wearing smaller versions of what you've got on. Catsuits, fingerless gloves, and climbing boots."
Carol shook her head. "Hui, Lui, and Dui. God! They are such little pissants."
"Three hundred pounds of trouble in three equal-sized packages," Suzy agreed. "Hundred-pound bundles of martial- arts prowess with severe Asian attitude."
Despite her words, though, Suzy had always gotten along fairly well with the Duc Barcs, who were actually efficient and good at their security jobs. They doubled as drivers for visiting authors and agents, and carefully recorded every remark made in their cars for Arienne Yarnell's ears. Other than that, however, they were not terribly intrusive, though Suzy suspected they perused e-mails. And they'd asked for copies of the book she'd just finished editing, so they might be into fetish clothing of one sort or another. Who knows, the whole rubber-robo thing might even appeal to them.
* * * * *
Two hours later, just after ten-thirty, Carol and Suzy stood leaning against the iron railing at the edge of the second-floor, desultorily watching the street below. Other than several handicapped parking spaces and a couple delivery zones, the front of the building was uncluttered, and only one of the handicapped spaces was taken.
"I'm seriously bored," Carol said, "even after four glasses of wine and canapés up the ying-yang."
Suzy looked at her watch. "We should probably head back down to the shindig for at least another half-hour." The main doors to the upper part of the ballroom had been opened, and music and laughter floated up from the festivities. The night was warm for late October in Portland, and three hundred mobile bodies created quite a lot of heat that needed to be dissipated.
"Yeah. The Duc Barcs have been up here twice checking the area, though, so things must be calm down there."
As Carol finished speaking, a black Dodge Sprinter van cruised by on the street below, and did a U-turn at the next intersection before returning and swinging into one of the delivery zones. The rig's lights flicked off and two tall, muscular short-haired blondes got out.
"Oh, my," Suzy said, stepping back slightly from the railing to reduce her visibility. "What have we here?"
"Okay, they're wearing black and they aren't any of our people that I recognize. Sure not voluptuous enough to be love-dolls, so, unless the manufacturer has a military-dyke model..."
"They are Collectors, beyond a doubt," came Five's voice from within Suzy's head. "The Company procures athletic women based on need, programs them completely, then rubberizes them in their natural forms and uses them for outside work."
"Because they don't look like fucktoys?" Suzy asked.
"It's them, isn't it?" Carol said, guessing what Five had said.
Below, the tall blondes talked softly with their heads together, one of them holding an electronic device and slowly scanning the front of the building. Then, nodding decisively, the woman pocketed the scanner, and the two strode rapidly into the main ballroom.
"Here they come. Run or stay?" Suzy asked Carol.
"We're kind of trapped. If we go down the stairs into the ballroom, they'll see us."
"We could maybe escape in the confusion?"
"Once we're outside the building, there's no witnesses. With witnesses, official interest might be generated."
"I can't see a situation where someone who turns young women into lovedolls would want any publicity. I say we stay right here."
"Ah, there you are," said a deep, feminine voice from the building.
Suzy and Carol turned to find the Collectors standing in the open doorway. Both were smiling widely, their teeth particularly white against golden-brown latex skins.
"Uh, hi," Suzy said, giving a small wave.
"You are still free," said one of the women. "How interesting." Her companion raised a small remote, pointed it at Suzy, and punched a button.
"Sorry," Suzy said, folding her arms over her chest.
"A Master unit will be required, my sister," said the Collector who'd spoken, resting her right hand on her companion's shoulder.
Behind the two blondes, the Duc Barc sisters appeared, looking very much ready for action. "We must ask you two ladies to depart," said one of the Security trio. They spread apart, effectively blocking the doorway. "You are not guests."
"We are here to collect property," said one Collector.
"Should you attempt to stop us, small persons, you shall regret it," the other said.
"Unlikely," a Duc Barc said, snorting. All three raised their fists into fighting stances.
The first Collector ignored them for the moment and turned back to Suzy. "Join us. Do not remain an unnatural thing."
"I kind of like being this way," Suzy replied. "Free will and all."
The collector smiled. "We shall return with a Master Control unit. When you have been converted, my sister and I will use you to our desire. You will serve us without hesitation or thought."
"Contemplate that while you are yet free," said the other, stepping quickly forward. She grabbed Carol's left wrist and yanked her away from Suzy toward her companion. "Meanwhile, we shall capture your friend."
"Hey!" Carol protested, stumbling, attempting to jerk back.
"It's not that easy, my dear." Smiling wickedly, the Collector held up a thick patch in her free hand. "Here, let me remove all resistance and doubt from your mind forever."
"Fuck you," Carol replied, swinging at the taller woman.
"One can only hope," said the Collector, ducking Carol's blow and pulling Suzy's wildly struggling co-worker around to face Suzy. "Say goodbye to your friend." She slapped the patch onto the back of Carol's neck.
Carol's eyes and mouth went wide in shock, the expression freezing on her face for a long pair of seconds. Then her features slowly relaxed into glassy-eyed blankness and her arms fell limply to her sides.
The collector released Carol, who stood motionless. She stared ahead at nothing, her mouth partially opened. "Sealed, my sister," the Collector said smugly, patting Carol on one unresponsive cheek. "Welcome to complete obedience, my dear."
"A beginning..." the other collector started to say, when one of the Duc Barcs put a booted foot into the back of her skull and knocked her to her knees. A second kicked Carol's attacker's legs out from under her as the third leapt on her back and looped her right forearm around the blonde's throat, pulling her head back.
"A challenge," the first Collector said, shaking her head as she rose to her feet. She caught a second kick by the Duc Barc by an ankle and twisted the smaller woman to the tiled terrace surface.
"You shall serve me willingly and gladly," the Collector said, pulling the Duc Barc to her. The little Asian slammed her on the chin, to no visible effect. A second later she wore a patch on the back of her neck and lay stiffly on the floor, staring at the sky.
Wearing a wide smile, the Collector seized one of the remaining sisters and slapped a patch on her, even while her companion did the same with the third.
"Stand up, slaves," the Collectors ordered the Duc Barcs, who climbed to their feet in catatonic acceptance. Suzy, her right arm around Carol, thought the sisters looked as though they'd been transformed into statues of brown wax. She shuddered, uncertain of what would happen next.
The Collector in charge turned to Suzy. She gestured at the entranced Asians. "Keep your friend for now. We'll take these three, process them, then come back for you two, wherever you are, and complete you and your companion. Enjoy the brief time you have left as a unprogrammed entity."
"Come with us," the other Collector told the Duc Barcs, who marched woodenly away down the stairs behind the two blondes.
Suzy, still holding Carol, heard the Sprinter start up a minute or two later. Only then did she take a deep breath, quit shaking, and try to free her friend.
Suzy pried up an edge of the patch on Carol's neck and slowly lifted it away from her skin. The process took a couple of minutes; the thing was that stubborn. But then it was off. Suzy stuck it in her pocket.
"Oh, shit," Carol said finally, blinking, her eyes returning to life.
"Yes. No. That fucking thing turned me off. I could think, sort of, but nothing else."
"How did it feel?"
"Euphoric nothingness. Empty. Waiting for instructions. I was gone."
"You looked gone."
Carol's eyes looked fearful, almost frantic. "But I kind of liked it, Suze."
Suzy held Carol tight. "It's okay, Carol. You're okay. It's over."
"It will fade, Suzy," said Five. "In a short time."
"Five says you'll be okay in a while."
Carol took a deep breath and looked around, frowning. "Where are the Duc Barcs?"
"Collectors patched 'em. Took 'em."
"They will be processed and enslaved," said Five. "Within an hour, they will be only rubberized servants."
"We need to get over there," Carol said, "and get me in a suit."
"Okay," Suzy replied, sighing with resignation.
A half-hour later, three blocks from the Willamette River and near OMSI, Suzy and Carol crouched on the high roof of a medium-sized warehouse and looked down through a conveniently clean skylight. Thirty feet below, in a white-walled laboratory, the Duc Barcs stood in a row, nude, facing a half-dozen tall glass tubes with open panels. One of the Collectors watched them while the other sat at an electronic panel, tapping buttons.
"They're cuter than I'd thought," Carol said.
"The Collectors are going to process them into worker drones rather than love-dolls," Five said.
"Cute or not, Carol, they're going to become workers."
"Five says no. Watch. There's nothing else we can do. The Duc Barcs are history."
In the laboratory below, the three petite Asian women each walked obediently into one of the tubes. The standing Collector shut each door carefully, examining the seals. The Duc Barcs stood unmoving within the secured tubes, arms at their sides, brown eyes staring ahead.
A clear liquid began to stream down the inside of each tube, gradually filling them to the top. The Duc Barcs were submerged, their motionless bodies visible though the fluid. The Collector at the control console checked gauges, tapped buttons and examined screens for perhaps a minute, then stood patiently watching the process.
Twenty minutes later, a light flashed, a chime sounded, and the tubes emptied.
The doors to the tubes were opened and the Duc Barcs stepped out to stand in a row before their new mistresses.
"Are they rubber dolls now?" Carol said.
"Processing is complete," Five said. "The Duc Barcs have been completely rubberized. They are now incapable of truly independent action, though they will accomplish their normal job duties at the publishing house until the Collectors require their use."
Below, a Collector lay down on the floor and spread her thighs, pointing between them. One of the Duc Barcs swiftly dropped to her knees and began to slurp avidly at the Collector's crotch.
"She promised one of them that she would serve willingly and gladly," Suzy said, repressing a shudder as the Collector's back arched and the tall blonde spasmed with joy. "Sure looks that way. When things quiet down, we're going inside and put you in one of the suits, Carol."
"The sooner the better, Suze," Carol said, her gaze riveted on the scene under their vantage point. Suzy could tell that Carol felt badly for the Duc Barcs, even though she didn't much care for the little Asians. And Carol knew that both she and Suzy could end up as programmed latex dolls.
When the Collector was sated, the Duc Barcs robotically put on their clothes and boots and the five women left the laboratory. Suzy and Carol crept to the edge of the roof and watched the Sprinter drive off.
"They're going back to the party, I bet," Carol said. "Don't want to alarm Miz Yarnell."
Suzy considered that possibility for a moment. "Yeah, makes sense, I guess."
"Let's go, Suze," Carol said.
"Carol will have to wear the patch again, Suzy," Five said. "Without it, she will trigger the alarms."
Turning to her friend, Suzy sweetly said, "Guess what, Carol?"
* * * * *
Suzy, briefly under Five's control — this time her entire body — quickly gained access to the building. A zombified Carol stood beside her as Five entered the codes and the two slipped inside.
The first thing they saw upon entering the hallway leading to the laboratory was an eight-foot-tall smiling white statue which eerily resembled the Michelin Man, one big hand raised in greeting.
"Holy shit!" Suzy exclaimed, stopping in her tracks and staring at the tall figure. "What's that doing here?"
"That is a depiction of Mister B, the company owner," Five replied.
"What! C'mon, he's not a real person, Five."
"Perhaps he is unaware of his fictitious nature, Suzy Conlon. He has been on this planet, creating his power base and rubber empire, since 1908, when he escaped his exploding ship in Siberia."
"Give me a break, Five! He's a freakin' alien?"
"Yes. During World War II, using modified Buna-S, company scientists discovered the initial steps for creating rubberized humans. Experiments were conducted upon captive laborers from conquered countries. By 1950, the process had advanced to the point where obedient servants could be turned out in some numbers. By the turn of the Millennium, unlimited legions of latex robots could be made. The Love Doll conversions were the next step, a process not directly dependent upon the manufacture of rubber items, yet generating considerable sales income."
"Is this a world conquest issue?"
"I do not know. Certainly there are thousands who have been processed identically as were the Duc Barc sisters. Perhaps there is a tipping point where national governments fall under his sway. Again, I do not know. He may take a very long view, as he does not age as do humans. He has time."
Suzy looked at Carol, who stood motionless and blank-eyed, awaiting orders. "A world with everyone like this..." Suzy said slowly, shaking her head, not wanting to consider that possibility.
"We need to proceed to the stock room, Suzy. Should the Collectors return before Carol is suited, they will surely complete your programming."
"Lead on," Suzy replied.
Using the floor plan in Five's database, in a short time Carol was back to normal and slipping into a brand-new pale- skinned Lovedoll suit.
"Jesus, this feels good," Carol said, as Suzy helped her with the final steps and connected the inflating tank.
Carol's body didn't alter as much as Suzy's had during the inflation, but twenty minutes later, Carol Tedesco had changed into a rubberized doll with red hair, eyebrows, and lips. The number on her forehead was twenty-seven.
"You don't look much like your old self," Suzy observed as they left the room, wishing they'd had time to search through the suit inventory for something better matching Carol's natural coloring.
"Well," Carol replied as she dressed, "hopefully when Twenty-Seven comes to life, she'll be able to alter my coloring the way Five does with you. Either way, it'll beat being a programmed Love-doll. At the moment, though, I feel yummy."
"Now we must leave, Suzy," Five said. "Carol can be yummy somewhere else, somewhere safer."
"Is there more than one entrance, Five?" Suzy asked.
"There is a shipping dock with a door alongside. That might be the best exit at this point. The round-trip back to the party will take the Collectors no more than an hour, though they may search for you two for a time."
Suzy looked at her watch. "We've been here thirty-five minutes. We've got some time. Is there a communications/computer center here somewhere?"
"Yes, on the second level, to the rear of the central processing and storage areas."
Grabbing Carol, interrupting her narcissistic reverie, Suzy towed her friend out of the suit storage room. "Tell me where, Five. Do you have the access codes?"
"Yes, but we must depart very soon."
"What are we doing?" Carol asked, her wide red-lipped smile seemingly fixed permanently on her nearly-white features.
"Let's see if we can download their core information and programs. Send as much as possible to both your computer and mine. Take a look at it later. Maybe we can poke a stick though the spokes of their bicycle of world domination."
"Way cool, Suze!"
Suzy glared at her friend as the two trotted up the stairs to the second level and entered the room Five indicated. "And you need to get on board, Carol. Yeah, you look great and feel great, and we destroyed the control unit packaged with your suit, but if we get caught and they pop you with a Master remote, you'll never have an original thought again."
To Suzy's relief, Carol's expression sobered instantly. "Sure. You're right. But I've been thinking, and not just about the fun I'm going to have with this new hyper-sexual bod. Ask Five if there's a self-destruct program in the system. If Mister B is as paranoid as he should be, there will be some way of obliterating this place and the stock on hand."
"Five?" Suzy asked her inner self.
"Yes, there is a program, and the building is wired with explosives and incendiaries. If a threat of exposure is deemed certain, either of the Collectors and any of the treated individuals is capable of initiating the destruct program. It is in a station on the main floor."
"Five says there is, and she can access it," Suzy told Carol.
"Good," Carol replied. "We be doing that. First, we harvest the computer."
"Have a seat, Suzy," Five said. "We must hurry."
With all the access codes, opening programs and down- loading them to Suzy and Carol's respective computers proved easy. Even with DSL, however, time was involved, and after nearly twenty minutes had passed, even Suzy began to get nervous.
"Ten minutes to go, Five," she said, running her right hand through her spiky hair. She felt more like a programmed love doll every second.
"Where is the Master Remote?" Carol asked.
"In the safe behind the painting of the rubber plantation," Five replied. "I don't know the combination."
"Behind the painting, Carol," Suzy said, "but Five doesn't know the combination."
"That's okay," Carol said. "If I smash the combination dial, that won't matter." While Suzy continued to watch the computer screen, Carol removed the painting, set it on the floor, then picked up a desk lamp with a heavy metal base and swung it once at the combination dial.
Which snapped off and flew across the room.
"Good job!" Suzy said, hoping Carol knew what she was doing.
The safe door swung half-way open.
"Oh, shit!" Carol groaned. "It wasn't locked." She tried to shut the safe door, but the lock wouldn't catch. Peering into the safe, Carol said, "There are five remotes, and they look identical."
"Take everything out of the safe," Suzy told her friend. "Find a bag to put it in. We need to escape, and we need to touch this place off."
"Right," Carol replied, scooping the contents of the safe into a Powell's canvas book bag which she found hanging from a peg on the wall. She tossed Suzy the heavy bag, closed the safe, and replaced the picture.
"Go," Suzy said, standing. "We'll have to let the computer finish while we arm the destruct sequence."
"Right," Carol repeated, and the two friends headed for the stairs.
On the main floor, not far from the cylinders in which the Duc Barc sisters had met their rubbery fate, Five directed them to the metal housing containing the destruct circuitry. Suzy swung the cover up, revealing a keyboard and lighted panel. "What next, Five?" she asked.
"Access is ENDLOESUNG 45."
Her fingers shaking, Suzy typed in the letters and numbers as rapidly as she could. The screen brightened. "Now what?"
"Set the timer."
Suzy took a deep breath, composed herself, and typed. "Okay, ten minutes, then."
"Couldn't they have used a shorter freakin' word?" Suzy replied, her fingers flying.
"Keep it down, Suze," Carol whispered. "They just drove up outside by the loading dock."
Suzy entered the last six letters. The screen began flashing. "Okay, Five."
"Hit the red button."
"They're coming in," Carol said softly.
Suzy tapped the red button, then carefully and silently closed the cover as the countdown began. She and Carol crept behind the tall cylinder at the end of the line and pressed themselves against the wall.
A voice spoke from near the entry. "They're here somewhere. The concrete and metal of the building are preventing directional location, but they're definitely inside the building, and the one you patched earlier is now wearing a suit."
"I will get a master unit from the safe, my sister," said the second Collector. Watch the door. We will walk through the building and activate the remote repeatedly until they are fulfilled." An evil chuckle followed. "Then we will break them in properly."
"Yes, my sister." Another chuckle sounded. "My anticipation grows. The problem with Asian food is that half an hour later, one hungers anew."
From their hiding place, Suzy and Carol listened as the second Collector headed up the metal stairway. "Stay put as long as we can, Carol," Suzy whispered in Carol's right ear. "We've probably got five or six minutes to go. When she comes out and yells that the master remotes are missing, we run for the door. Hold tight to your bag of goodies."
They didn't have long to wait. Two minutes later, the second blonde shouted from above: "The safe is opened! They've taken the remotes!"
"No! How could they?" The Collector on their level replied, running toward the stairs.
"Less than four minutes, I think," Suzy whispered. "Let's go!"
They sprinted toward the loading dock door.
"There they are!" yelled the Collector at the top of the stairs.
Out of the corner of her left eye, Suzy saw the Collector jump over the metal railing and drop twenty feet down to the floor. Then she and Carol were at the door and out onto the loading dock.
Behind them, over the slap of the Collectors' boots on the concrete, a steady beeping ominously began.
They ran as hard as they could, the Collectors close behind them, screaming in rage and frustration.
When they were three blocks away, the building exploded into intense flames. The concussive blast wave washed over them as they ran, sending them staggering.
"You have won," Five said.
Suzy screeched to a halt, grabbing Carol as they turned to face the oncoming Collectors.
Both blonde women had also stopped. They looked confused, uncertain. "You have destroyed the facility," one said, then grasped her head with both hands and howled, her face contorting.
The other held her open palms up to her face and stared at them, incredulity on her features. "I had a career in beach volleyball!"
"I was taking Paleontology at Colorado State," the first Collector said. She began to cry.
"I think we cut their cords," Carol said, smiling as she poked Suzy in the ribs.
Suzy stared at the distraught women. "Let's head for the car. And take them with. We don't want the police and the fire department people to find them."
"Where in hell did you get those two?" Carol's cousin Florinda Bassani asked uneasily when she arrived an hour later. The former Collectors were sitting on Suzy's couch, drinking beer and watching television, and Florinda couldn't stop staring.
"Fire sale," Carol replied, ignoring Suzy's dirty look. Twenty-seven had activated on the ride back to Suzy's condo, and Carol now looked relatively normal, as did Suzy.
"Swell. Okay. As long as they don't kill and eat me."
"They're harmless," Suzy assured her, steering Florinda toward her home office and computer. "Did you bring all your gear?"
"The works. I do a lot of grey area stuff for local and state government, besides the family businesses, so we can hook up with the feds using that access. If you want to be certain, I'd recommend the FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security."
As Florinda logged on and booted up her programs, Suzy explained the situation, omitting the fact that the slim Italian girl's cousin Carol, Suzy, and the two women in the great room catching up with their lives were all rubberized humans. She did not, however, omit the threat of Mister B and his legions of faithful programmed minions. Or the possible danger to governments worldwide.
"I've always wanted to thwart evildoers trying to conquer the planet," Florinda said when Suzy was done. "Been a dream all my life." A determined smile on her dark features, her fingers flew over the keyboard.
"Will they be able to track the source of this information back to us?" Suzy asked.
Florinda shook her head. "Yes and no. Somewhat. It will appear to be coming from the office of an anti-gay, right-to-life, evangelical senator down at the Capital in Salem. But real determined searchers — experts — will be able to locate you. Assuming that the minions don't find out first, maybe we'll all get medals." She grinned up at Suzy and Carol. "And not posthumously, I'm hoping."
"You're taking a chance."
"Sure, but when I walk out of here into the night, I'm gone. No assbag alien is going to find me." She tapped 'Send.' "There's No Such Agency, alerted to the peril. Now the Feebies and Homeland Insecurity."
"This is great, Cuz," Carol said.
"Thanks so much," Suzy added.
"A couple glasses of wine afterward will be payment enough," Florinda assured them, looking very pleased with herself.
* * * * *
The Collectors' names were Lori and Shannon. When Carol's cousin had departed into the Sunday morning sunrise, the four women sat around Suzy's dining room table and went through the safe's contents.
"Six dozen patches," Carol said, whistling. They'd already destroyed four of the five Master Units. The fifth, its batteries removed, lay in a bottom drawer in Suzy's desk.
"Dangerous insurance," Suzy had said, even as Five encouraged her to save the technology. Suzy couldn't bring herself to disagree with Five, who'd kept her and Carol from lives of sexual servitude. She didn't like it much, though.
Lori held up a patch, shaking her blonde head. "One of these is what got me originally. I was at an outdoor concert in Colorado Springs. Took me to a conversion facility in Denver, processed me, and I served."
"I was doing stretches after a run at a city park in San Diego. My conversion was in a Scientology Center."
"That explains some things," Carol said, grinning as she rubber-banded the loose patches into stacks.
"How vulnerable are you two?" Suzy asked.
"Not much at this point," Lori answered. "After processing, our controls eventually are linked to our assigned facility. Since ours has been destroyed, we're off the grid, so to speak. The patches won't work on us, same as you guys, and we're not convertible by a Master Unit."
Shannon smiled happily. "They'd have to physically subdue us and transport us to a conversion facility." She punched Lori on a shoulder. "Which we aren't going to let happen. Right, pardner?"
"Oh, yeah, but I have to go back and get my degree. I've got a five-year hole in my life. My family hasn't seen me the whole time, though our programming let us call and write permitted things."
"Five years of mind-control," Carol said, holding up a pair of long opaque bundles of shrink-wrapped something. "This is cash, I think." She slit one bundle with a pocket knife, spilling hundred dollar bills onto the table top. "I say we split it four ways, folks."
Suzy had been at work for just over an hour on Monday when the Duc Barc sisters appeared in her small office, shutting and locking the door behind them. Suzy eyed them warily. They were programmed to obey when the proper trigger words were spoken by Lori or Shannon, and those words had essentially died in the fire, so what were the little Asians exactly? Besides small, beautiful, rubberized dolls.
"You saved us," Hui said, with a short bow.
"You three tried to protect us," Suzy protested.
"We failed," Lui said, also bowing.
"You paid an awful price," Suzy pointed out.
Dui nodded as she bowed. "This is true, Miz Conlon, but now we are free, our bodies physically powerful."
"And we will not age," Hui added.
"Nor fail in our duty to you," Lui said.
"Well," Suzy said, looking from one perfect set of glossy features to another, "you don't really have any duty to me." Her voice faltered. "You know."
Hui came around Suzy's desk and brought her face very close to Suzy's. Her small, warm hands rested on Suzy's right thigh, and her sisters joined her. Suzy could feel Lui's breath on the back of her neck.
"Our residual programming binds us to you," Hui said, and her sisters echoed her. They almost seemed to be worshiping.
Suzy couldn't move without touching them even more. "This is really not necessary, guys."
"Someone with a Master Control unit could convert you into a love doll," Dui said, her small, full lips no more than a millimeter from Suzy's left ear.
"We cannot allow that," Lui purred from behind Suzy.
"Are you a complete fool?" Five asked from within Suzy's head. "They wish to have sexual relations with you. Give me control, and I will give them all they want and more."
"We're at work here, Five!"
"You can spare a half-hour, Suzy Conlon. Close your curtains, ask the receptionist to hold your calls."
"Are you nuts!"
A heartbeat after she spoke those words, Hui's lips touched the right corner of Suzy's mouth.
Suzy felt herself melt. She closed her eyes in bliss as Dui nibbled on her left ear and Lui began kissing the back of her neck. "One of you close the curtains," she suggested.
"Yes, Mistress," Dui murmured, hastening to the window.
"Okay, Five," Suzy said. "Do your thing."
"Ahhhhh," Five replied.
Of seemingly their own accord, Suzy's hands began unbuttoning her blouse.
"Jesus, you're one of them!" the tall man on the bench at Laurelhurst park exclaimed as Suzy sat down beside him. Nearly two weeks had passed since the destruction of Mister B's Portland facility, and Suzy had been expecting the call that finally came.
Suzy turned to look directly at him. Every facet of his appearance practically screamed 'Fed!' The dark suit and tie, the bad haircut, the shoes. Everything.
"Roger Manning," he said, extending his right hand.
"Suzy Conlon." They shook hands. He wasn't half bad-looking, and he didn't stare at her boobs. "What may I do for you, Mister Manning?"
His smile was shy, boyish. "You can accept the thanks of your country and numerous other countries around the world. Sadly, there's no official commendation or medal, but the President sends her heartfelt thanks, also."
"Well, I knew someone had taken notice when Fox News had that big shake-up and Rush Limbaugh went off the air. What about Osama bin Laden?"
"When the French raided the alien's chateau, they came away with — besides him — hundreds of those patches. It's surprising how much information one can glean from someone who has one on his or her neck. It was just a matter of finding the right neck. Wiped out water-boarding overnight."
"I see. How many have you rounded up?"
"Nationally, hundreds. No movers and shakers, mostly people behind the important boys and girls. His big rubbery fingers were in a lot of pies. The old Guantanamo facility has filled back up, and rather quickly, I might add."
"How close was he to some significant power?"
"Very. In South America, he had essential control over a few governments, mostly those involved in rubber production. Europe was highly influenced, shall we say. And for sure they're really hooked on his products."
Manning laughed. "Quite a few congressmen and senators were outraged that their mistresses were taken into custody, but of course they couldn't protest publicly. And a fair number of Middle Eastern bigwigs lost their consorts and concubines. Amazing how many of them were in Moscow and Hong Kong, too. And Utah. Who woulda thunk."
"Sounds like you've been busy."
"Definitely. And we're not finished yet."
"I have to ask. Any actresses?"
"Some. Several series have had to shut down production. And the porn industry, of course. Both sexes there. Turns out there are Love Doll suits for men, too."
"I see. I also see you brought what I asked for."
The federal agent looked down at the three tall shopping bags under his end of the bench. "Yeah, sure did. Do you need some help with them?"
"No. I have help." The Duc Barc sisters seemed to materialize out of thin air. Standing a few feet from the bench, they watched Manning with feral intensity.
He glanced at the petite Asians in turn, clearly noticing the pistol bulges under the fronts of their leather jackets. "I'd have to agree, Miz Conlon. How many women in your little coven?"
"Three more than you see."
"Can you tell me why you need these suits?"
Suzy shook her head, smiling at him. "I keep some of my secrets, Mister Manning. Call them a potential for friendly persuasion."
"I understand perfectly." He stood and shook Suzy's hand again, before giving her his card. "Again, Miz Conlon, your country thanks you. And there may be some monies coming soon on the Osama bin Laden capture. It never would have happened if not for you."
"My pleasure," Suzy replied, tucking the card into her shirt pocket. "Anything more comes up, I'll be in touch."
"We'd appreciate it." He appeared about to say something more, and color mounted to his cheeks.
Suzy understood immediately, and smiled up at him. "Perhaps dinner and a movie, Mister Manning. Call me in a month or so. Just don't expect me to fulfill your dreams.
I still have my willpower and all my prior inhibitions in place."
The Duc Barcs claimed the shopping bags, and Suzy followed them out of the park, turning back once to wave at the federal agent.
Halloween, she thought with a trace of smugness, had worked out rather well.
And she suspected her one-note, mundane existence had vanished forever.
On the following Monday, for the first time in her years of employment at Yarnell Publishing, Suzy saw her boss hesitant and uneasy.
"A man visited me last Friday afternoon," Arienne Yarnell began, then paused, brushing a lock of light auburn hair from her flawless forehead.
"A Mister Manning perhaps?" Suzy asked sweetly.
"Why, yes. How on earth did you know?"
"I've spoken with him. What did he want?"
"He wanted to know how you had selected the costume you wore at Halloween, if I had suggested it."
"You did, sort of."
Now her boss was twirling her hair. "I really didn't know that much about the company, Suzy. Someone mentioned it, was all."
"Manning wanted to know who?"
"Did he tell you what happened to me?"
"To a degree, that you're still wearing the suit, that it doesn't come off."
"You look like yourself, not like you did at the party, but your..."
"...body is different. Is that it?"
Miz Yarnell's features reddened. "Yes."
"Did the gabby Mister Manning mention that I have three of the suits?"
"Yes, he did."
Damn Manning! Suzy thought furiously for several seconds. "You want one, don't you? Manning told you what they do, what they're intended to create?"
"Not exactly, just that they're very dangerous, but that you avoided being...well, whatever they do."
Pulling up a chair, Suzy sat down and regarded her boss seriously. "Briefly, they commandeer the body and mind of the wearer, if that person takes the final step, allowing a implanted program to override her or his personality. Not to put it too bluntly, but the individual becomes a programmed sex worker. No free will, no volitional behavior. Just one vigorous boink after another." Suzy grinned at her increasingly astonished and nervous employer. "You probably wouldn't want to become a mindless fucktoy, would you? It'd play all hell with the business."
To her surprise, what Suzy considered a very real drawback to her current situation seemed to both calm and amuse her boss. "You haven't."
"Let me explain." Suzy continued, going over her situation from start to finish, that Carol Tedesco also had one of the suits, what had happened to the Duc Barc triplets, and the hopefully unlikely possibility that someone would come looking, someone with a Master Remote.
"You're still vulnerable, then?"
Suzy nodded. "You will be, too, if I provide you with one of these spiffy numbers."
"Would you do that, Suzy?"
"I don't see you in a suit as much of an improvement, frankly, boss lady."
Yarnell laughed with a touch of bitterness. "Thanks loads, but I'm forty-five years old, Suzy. Exercise and proper diet can only do so much. Entropy happens."
"You'll be hostage to the possibility that someone will recognize what you are, someone with the capability of erasing you and sending you off to, oh, let's say Dubai, where you'll be nothing more than a compliant provider of sex for whoever or whatever comes in the door."
"What are the chances, really?"
"Locally, none. Portland's facility is history, which is why I'm standing here talking to you. Manning probably told you that. The company owner is in custody, but some of his faithful minions had to have slipped through the official nets. The government found me and sent Manning. Someone else could do the same if they're persistent enough, ultimately sending someone with a Master Remote. We're searching for a way to neutralize the command program without screwing up internal access to company information, but no luck so far. My thought is if I am found, they will convert me and simply ask if there are others, and those others will be likewise converted."
"Even the Duc Barcs?"
"No, they're not programmed beyond simple obedience to whomever they regard as their superior. Otherwise they're quite normal. For them."
"Are you their superior?"
Suzy shrugged. "They think so. They've moved next door so they can protect me."
"Look, I'm not going to beg, but I'd really appreciate one of those suits."
Suzy snapped her fingers, and gave her boss an evil grin. "Your wish shall be granted! Just don't come whining to me if you end up in some Sheik's harem."
"I don't know how to thank you."
Suzy stood and shook the older woman's hand. "It won't become an issue, Miz Yarnell. I have a Master Remote, you see."
She walked out before her boss could stammer a reply. Then, as she walked down the hallway to her own office, Suzy realized that spreading the knowledge that she possessed a Master Remote might not be very wise. Shit!
* * * * *
All three Duc Barcs were waiting for her when Suzy got home, their identical features visibly upset. "What?" she asked, setting her briefcase on the floor and a collection of publishing proposals on her kitchen counter.
"It's Carol," Hui said.
"She called." Lui added. "About her cousin."
"We have to go there," said Dui, waving her car keys.
"Yes," all three chorused urgently, tugging Suzy out her door and down the hall to the elevator.
Suzy had no idea what the sisters' driving skills had been before their rubberization, but the old stereotype of Asian drivers went right out the window on the first corner, when Dui sent their Honda CRV into a four-wheel-drift, narrowing missing several nearby vehicles before accelerating rapidly through early evening traffic.
"So, what's the deal?" Suzy asked, even as she hung on for dear life.
"Carol did not say," Lui replied.
"But she was angry and distraught," Hui said.
Dui said nothing, smoothly changing lanes like a Rally professional, working the gas pedal and brakes at the same time.
Florinda Bassani's small, neat home sat in a good-sized lot on a side street in Southeast Portland, in the Hosford-Abernathy district. The walkway to the front door was nearly a hundred feet long, ensuring privacy. Colorful seasonal flowers bloomed in white boxes on the windows, framed by red shutters. A separate two-car garage, newer than the house, lay to the right of the home.
"This's nice," Suzy remarked absently as she followed the swiftly-moving Duc Barcs to the front door. One of the trio rang the bell while the other two watched the street
intently, their right hands on the pistols holstered beneath their jackets.
Carol yanked open the door and pulled Suzy inside. The triplets followed.
"What's wrong?" Suzy asked.
"They got to Florinda. She's...well, come and see for yourself."
Florinda Bassani sat in lotus position on a chair in her home office, nude, facing the door into the room, a laptop computer in her lap. Her gleaming mahogany features wore an expression of intense glee, a smile so broad it must be painful. Her large brown eyes were wide, unblinking. The index finger of her right hand poised unmoving over the Enter button on the computer keyboard.
Only a glance gave Suzy the truth. "She's rubber, isn't she?"
Carol nodded. "Worse, she's solid rubber, I think, a latex statue, for Christ's sake!" She handed Suzy a piece of paper. "This was taped on her left boob."
Suzy read the note aloud. "'You see before you the first step in a trail of vengeance which will have all you miscreants becoming cautionary objects against disobedience to the will of the Leader. This initial individual has been transformed into a life-sized Action Figure. View the provided DVD of her alteration; know that her mind has been down-loaded into the augmented storage unit in her lap as well as a second unit, which we possess. The second copy will be installed into a blank Lovedoll body after we capture the rest of you. You will serve mindlessly together in the capital of an un-named and rather dingy South American country. Enjoy your final few days of freedom.'"
"I guess you can't chortle on paper," Suzy said, handing the note back to Carol. "And the penmanship isn't that good, either, which probably means we're dealing with a minion who hasn't been rubberized. I'd think their writing would be perfect Cursive."
"Doing it for the money?" Carol asked.
Suzy grinned. "Hirelings, in other words." She glanced back at the Duc Barc sister at the doorway. The little Asian had drawn her automatic and watched the hall. The other two must be in the living room. She turned back to the frozen Florinda. "Okay, let's see what we can do for your cousin." She carefully examined the glossy-skinned figure, noting two USB ports on the back of its neck. "This must be how they extracted her mind, Carol."
"It gets worse, Suze. Take a look at her crotch."
Gently lifting up the laptop, Suzy saw a cord extending from a USB port on the computer to another mounted in a chromed dildo installed between Florinda's tanned labia. Suzy sighed. "Hence the big smile, I suppose. They must have patched her, placed the ports, down-loaded her, then rubberized her while her pleasure centers were fully-accessed. What do you think, Five?"
"I believe you are correct, Suzy. Ms. Bassani entered her final condition suffused with joy. But before her body was altered, they drained her mind and personality into dual storage units, one of which rests on her rather tasty thighs."
"What's Five think?" Carol asked.
"She agrees with me, plus she thinks Florinda looks tasty."
Carol looked sour. "They plucked her eyebrows, Suze, plus did some make-up, which she almost never did."
"The lipstick compliments her tan, that's for sure."
"She just got back from Mexico three days ago. They must have been waiting here when she walked in."
Suzy studied the nirvanic expression on Florinda's gleaming features. "She does look hot."
"For God's sake, Suze, she's a rubber doll! And there's nothing we can do for her! She's going to stay like this for fucking ever! A God-damned statue!"
Suzy reached down and ejected a disc from the DVD port. "Let's have a look at this. There was a television in the living room."
Leaving the smiling latex figure alone, they went into the living room and started the disc.
"A regular little production, isn't it?" Suzy said, as the screen brightened on two crouched ski-masked men flanking Florinda's front door. Whoever held the camera must have been standing in the hallway. Florinda opened the door and stepped inside. The men grabbed her arms and one slapped a compliance patch on her neck.
Just as Carol had, her cousin's features went from frozen shock to waxen slackness over the next ten seconds. Her captors released her arms and ordered her to follow them. The camera remained on the obedient robotic figure as Florinda removed her clothing and positioned herself in the chair where she'd been discovered by her cousin. The dildo was inserted and connected to the computer while another metal device encircled her neck and installed the USB ports. The camera recorded everything in loving detail.
"The ports must go directly into the spine," Suzy said, as a cord connected Florinda's neck to the computer.
"Don't make me think about it," Carol replied, shuddering. She didn't look away from her cousin's ongoing modification, however.
The computer commenced the down-load, and the DVD recorder must've been shut down during that time-consuming process, since the next view of Florinda showed the bulky removable drive being exchanged for another before being placed inside a carrying case.
When the second down-load was finished, Five said, "The second action contained a full drain program. Her mind is now completely empty except for very limited house-keeping functions. They will begin to convert her."
As Five predicted, the men now brushed Florinda's short, bristly black hair until it shone, then applied make-up around her eyes before giving her a quart bottle of some creamy liquid to drink.
"That's the rubberizing stuff, Five?" Suzy asked her inner self, as the blank-eyed zombie who had been Florinda Bassani handed the empty bottle back to one of her captors.
"Yes. It functions just as well and thoroughly when ingested."
On-screen, lipstick was applied. Then one of the men tapped a sequence into the computer, posed Florinda's right index finger over the 'Enter' key, and depressed it. When released, the finger remained poised in place, and Florinda slowly smiled.
As the smile spread steadily over her lean brown features, Florinda's hips began to rhythmically flex back-and-forth, the intensity of her motion increasing over the next several minutes. Her pupils expanded, nearly blotting out the whites of her eyes. Soft moans escaped over her full lips.
"Look at her skin," Suzy said, as the overhead lighting began to be reflected from the almost-orgasming figure on the screen.
"She is solidifying nicely." Five said.
"Jesus," Carol said, "I can't stop watching!"
Florinda's movement came to an abrupt cessation as she suddenly cried out and orgasmed, her smile widening several more millimeters as she came. A heartbeat later she froze in position, to all outward appearance only a glossy statue sitting in the lotus position with a computer in its lap. The room was utterly silent.
Carol put her head in her hands and began to sob. One of the Duc Barcs leaned down and draped a slim arm around her shoulders to comfort her.
A voice came from the television speakers. "Florinda Bassani is now nothing more than a mindless latex doll, the ultimate price she paid for bringing the authorities' attentions upon our glorious leader. Look upon her eternal alteration, weep, and know that you will be dealt with soon and just as thoroughly."
Even as Carol continued to cry, Suzy could not tear her eyes from the motionless rubberized figure on the screen. Florinda seemed to stare back at her, her gleaming features forever wreathed in happiness.
How in hell did this happen? Suzy thought. Of all of us, Florinda was the most removed from events.
"Someone deduced the source of the information, perhaps?" Five said in Suzy's mind.
"Maybe," Suzy replied aloud, "but she did it from my place."
"The government only knew about your involvement," Carol said, wiping her eyes on a dish towel one of the triplets had brought her.
"Yeah, and even though Manning might be bit too informative at times, he didn't know about Florinda. Does anyone at Yarnell know about your genius cousin, Carol?"
"Well, I was pretty proud of her, so I probably told some people I had a relative who knew her ass about computers."
It suddenly occurred to Suzy that their boss could have been one of those who knew Florinda existed. "Miz Yarnell, maybe?"
Carol considered the thought. "Oh, yeah, sure."
"Okay, Manning came to see her to ask about the genesis of my acquiring the Lovedoll suit. I told him she suggested it. What if he didn't tell her all that much about the suits. What if she knew it already?"
"But she'd never gotten a suit, Suze."
"Easy. We blew up the joint, so she couldn't. She may have been waiting to see how my suit experience went, and Manning let slip that I had three suits."
"But you told her the true purpose of the suits, that she could become a programmed sex worker."
"Okay, fucktoy! Whatever, she knew we found a way around the problem, even though you and I are still vulnerable."
"The Company paid for my suit. There has to be an electronic pathway between the national outlet — now closed — the local facility — destroyed — and Yarnell Publishing. Somebody came looking, some survivor of the purge of Acme, somebody who maybe originally suggested the suit to Miz Yarnell, somebody who knew someone local blew the whistle."
"Somebody from outside Portland who may not work directly for Acme."
"Do they have those people, Five?"
"I do not know, Suzy. It is plausible, though Mister B must have preferred to use only treated individuals."
"Five doesn't know, Carol."
"All of us attend to Miz Yarnell when she dons her suit," said Hui helpfully from her position by the front window.
"With the Master Remote," Lui said.
"Then she will answer our questions," finished Dui, "with the Master Remote pointed at her suited body."
"Okay, not a bad idea," Suzy replied. "In the meantime, let's get Florinda and her computer out of here."
"Rapidly and with great caution," said one of the Duc Barcs.
While the three little Asians carried the rigid Florinda and her laptop to the CRV, Suzy watched Carol lock the door after securing the rest of the small home.
"How you doing?" she asked her friend as Carol stuck the door key in her purse and turned toward Suzy.
"Probably as well as could be expected, considering. I'm trying to figure why they didn't download Florie's mind only once, rather than twice."
"Yeah. And left the back-up with us. Makes no sense."
Suddenly Carol's eyes widened at something behind Suzy. "Jesus, Suze! Get down!"
Before Suzy could react, a heavy pistol fired twice behind her, and something hard hammered her back, throwing her down on top of Carol.
Both women tried to burrow into the flowerbed bark mulch as a fusillade of shots were rapidly exchanged. The Duc Barcs were defending themselves.
Then it stopped. Twenty seconds later, Suzy and Carol raised their heads and peered through a light haze of cordite smoke toward the scene of the brief gun battle.
Three burly men lay unmoving on the lawn. Another sprawled on the sidewalk, blood pooling beneath his head. Florinda lay on her side nearer the Honda, her computer wedged beneath her. The Duc Barcs stood around her with weapons drawn, their brown gazes locked on the bodies of their recent foes for a few more seconds.
Dui unlocked the rear hatch of the CRV and opened it, beckoning to Suzy and Carol as the other two sisters lifted Florinda's stiffened form into the vehicle.
"Hurry!" Dui shouted, slamming the hatch while her siblings clambered into the rear seat, their automatics still drawn.
Suzy and Carol sprinted to the Honda and leapt into the little rig as Dui pulled into the street, tires squealing.
"Are you okay?" Carol asked Suzy breathlessly.
"Yeah, I think so. Why?"
"Jesus, Suze! They shot you twice!"
"Huh-uh," Suzy said. "They didn't shoot me."
"Then explain the two holes in the back of your blouse," Carol said.
Suzy felt around her back and located both holes, each about the diameter of her thumbs. Her eyes widened. "Holy shit!"
"Bullets only bounce off us," Hui said happily.
"We are the ultimate kickass warriors," Lui added, nodding enthusiastically. All three sisters' grins approached that of the silent figure lying behind the rear seat.
Dui threw the Honda recklessly around the next left-hander, then slowed to a legal speed, seamlessly entering the traffic flow on Division street a couple blocks later.
"Kick-ass!" she yelled, raising a small fist in the air, and her sisters echoed her.
Suzy could only sit and stare at Carol as the shock of what just happened settled into her head. "Bullets... just... bounce... off," she said finally, forcing down hysteria.
"Cool, actually," Carol replied, with the first smile Suzy had seen on her face today.
"You don't watch TV that much anyway, do you?" Carol asked Suzy from where she lay behind Suzy's 43-inch LCD Sony Bravia. A trail of wires fanned out on the carpet between the two women. The Duc Barc sisters watched them in silence from where they sat barefoot and cross-legged next to the smiling rubber statue of Florinda Bassani, their forearms resting on their knees, their pistols beside them.
"No, I've no problem doing this for your cousin. Nice that I've got a SKYPE and LINKSYS wireless set-up for my computer. One lengthy stop at Radio Shack and it looks like we can maybe make this work."
"Too bad Florie can't tell us what to do," Carol replied as she snicked the last cables from the computer to the television and stood, the tip of her tongue still clenched between her front teeth. "That sound-card wasn't cheap, either."
"Whatever it takes," Suzy said, shrugging. "We got your cousin into this mess, so this's is the least we can do. Having your mind stored inside a computer can't be bags of fun without an outlet for expression. Let's get her situated on that little coffee table."
They moved the coffee table into position beside the television, then folded a thick cotton towel on its top. The Duc Barcs carried Florinda's solidified body over and
lowered it into onto the table, the cable dangling from its crotch bumping across the carpet. Suzy scooped up the cable and passed it through to Carol, who plugged it into the laptop. Next they connected two USB cables to the ports on the back of Florinda's neck and activated the twin cameras and microphones attached to the upper corners of the television.
Taking a deep breath, Suzy tapped the television and computer on. Carol stood beside her about five feet in front of the set, the Duc Barcs clustered beside them, and watched the screen brighten.
"Florie, can you hear us?" Carol asked hesitantly.
Her cousin's reply both appeared on the screen and came out of the speakers. "Those fucktards!"
"Those dead fucktards, probably," Carol replied. "They ambushed us at your place earlier this evening."
"We killed them all," the Duc Barcs said in happy sociopathic unison.
"Good thing it's an Italian neighborhood," Florinda replied. "'Nobody seen nothing.'" She paused briefly, as if considering. "Are words appearing on the TV screen?"
"I need an Avatar. So you guys'll have somebody to look at." She chuckled. "And I know just the one."
"What? Or 'who,' I guess," Suzy asked.
"DAZ Studios 'The Girl 4.' Buy the whole shiteree, all the poses, all the expression and make-up options, all the outfits, all the weapons, and the animation program. Last time I looked, they'd just brought one out. Once I interface with it all, I can produce a friendly face for you guys to chat with."
Carol and Suzy exchanged startled glances. "Can we download all that?" Carol asked her cousin.
"With a credit card."
"Okay," Suzy said. "I'll deal with that while Carol brings you up to speed on current events."
Hui and Lui holstered their automatics. "We will order take-out dinner and bring some beer. Dui will stay here while we're gone."
"Bullets just bounce off, remember?" Suzy asked on her way to her home office and computer.
"'DAZ Studio,'" Florinda's disembodied voice repeated as Suzy exited the room.
* * * * *
Facing them from the television screen, the small tanned figure seated backward in a virtual wooden chair blended cartoon versions of actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci to a degree both compelling and alarming.
"Your waist is not designed to accommodate a conventional intestinal tract, Florinda," Suzy observed.
"Nice boobies," Carol added.
Florinda's wide lips smiled, and her slightly-slanted hazel-green eyes crinkled up. "No gravity in here, ladies." She cupped her shapely breasts in oversized long-fingered hands. "From the first moment I ran across this character design, I wanted her to be my virtual self. Just so damned hot!"
"I feel old and fat," Five said inside Suzy's head.
"Shut up, Five," Suzy growled at her alter ego.
"What?" Carol asked.
"I'm 'old and fat,' Five thinks."
"Compared to me," Florinda said smugly. "Who isn't?"
"Could you put on some clothes, Cuz?" Carol asked.
A charcoal skintight catsuit flowed over the figure on the screen, covering her from neck to wrists and ankles. "Better?"
"You need some new outfits," said Five.
"Now I'm getting clothing tips," Suzy said glumly. "How about something a bit less form-fitting, Florinda?"
A kelly-green T-shirt and black shorts replaced the catsuit. Florinda's hair straightened and lightened to a golden blonde with red highlights. She remained incredibly cute, but less overtly sexy.
"I think we can live with this, Florie," Carol told her cousin.
"Okay." Florinda rose to her feet, turned the chair around and sat back down. She leaned forward, hands clasped and elbows on her knees. "Are you fairly certain the guys the triplets offed were the ones who fucked me up?"
"Seems very probable," Suzy replied. "They put a spotter in place, waited until Carol found you, then mustered for the shootout, knowing that Hui, Lui, and Dui would show up with me."
Florinda grinned, her provocative features transforming from sultry promise to hoyden charm. "And except for the being dead part, it went well for them. They simply didn't know small arms are useless against you guys."
"Also, our new bodies allow incredible accuracy with weapons," Lui said.
"All headshots," said Dui.
"Grey matter splatter," Hui said cheerily.
"You sure you three aren't part Italian?" Florinda asked, laughing. "Anyway, too bad you didn't get their IDs. We could use that gadget they jacked into my spine. Now it's out of reach."
"We had their wallets, motel receipts, and room keys," Hui and Lui said. "We did take-out for the pizza, and dropped by their motel on the way. Fortunately it was nearby, and the police did not know where to search. The installation device sits on our kitchen counter, along with some spotty paperwork concerning Suzy. And Miz Yarnell's cell phone number."
"Holy shit!" Carol exclaimed.
"Ah," Florinda said. "The leak. When are you suiting her up, Suzy?"
"Tomorrow, after work. We'll all be there." "They may have another run at you. Some people get really pissed when the world gets saved out from under them." As she finished speaking, a worried expression crossed Florinda's face. "Uh, guys, why don't you take a break for that pizza and beer now. I need a little quiet time."
"What's wrong, Florie?" Carol asked.
"The loop between the machine and my body fires off an orgasm every half-hour or so, and things are startin' to heat up." Her left hand crept down under the elastic waistband of her shorts, her eyes grew distant, and a licentious smile formed on her virtual face. "Ah-h-h-h!"
Suzy punched the television off. "Well, let's take the little lady's advice, give her some time to herself."
"Where'm I going to sleep tonight, by the way?" Carol asked innocently as Suzy opened the pizza boxes in the kitchen.
"In the spare bedroom," Suzy replied. "Where else?"
"You get the whole bed to yourself."
"We drew straws to see who might qualify if you need someone to warm your night," said Hui, around a mouthful of pizza. "I won."
Carol blushed. "That really wasn't...what I meant, Hui."
"You won't regret it," Suzy said, laying out the beer after uncapping five bottles. "What's your randy inner self say?"
There were beets less red than Carol now. "She's... encouraging."
"This's a rhetorical question, dear, but when's the last time you got off with another person? And devices with Ni-cad batteries don't count."
"I come equipped with a variety of stimulating sexual devices," Hui said slyly, looking sidelong at Carol.
"She claims to able to stretch her tongue," Lui and Dui said, beaming, their glossy lips wrapped around the necks of their beers.
"I'll have to think about it," Carol replied, her voice faltering and her gaze darting away.
Her brown eyes never leaving Carol, Hui moved sinuously around the table, a two-square-inch piece of pizza held between the index and middle finger of her right hand. "Here," she said, holding the piece up in front of Carol's lips. "Take it. Then suck the cheese and sauce off my fingers."
The exchange reminded Suzy of the gradual ascent of a golden lab onto its owner's lap. First Hui placed her right knee on Carol's right thigh, ever-so-slowly raising herself up to straddle Carol's crotch. Her left hand curved behind Carol's head, and her perfect face grew closer and closer to Carol's. The pizza morsel remained precisely positioned, never wavering, a half-inch from Carol's lips.
"You know you want it," Hui purred, moving ever closer. She licked her own lips. "Take it. Now."
Their gazes locked. Carol leaned forward a few millimeters at a time, her lips reaching out, gradually engulfing the food. She chewed and swallowed, then the tip of her tongue curled around Hui's fingers, exploring the fingernails and the knuckles beyond as she drew the fingers into her mouth. She began to suck, at first slowly, then more energetically.
Hui's face moved closer and closer to Carol's. Her warm lips touched the tip of Carol's nose. "Don't stop, my lover," she murmured, withdrawing her fingers from Carol's mouth and moving her hand down to Carol's crotch, probing with her thumb between Carol's spreading thighs.
Their lips met, and Hui sighed. "I am a sexual device, Carol. Tonight I will be your sexual device, lifting you to undreamed heights of pleasure. You will never forget me. Never."
Suzy and the other two triplets began to clap,
Pressed together, nearly adherent, Carol and Hui seemed not to notice.
* * * * *
Suzy lay on her back in her bed, Lui and Dui curled one on either side of her. In the light from the nightstand beside the bed, both petite Asians' expressions exuded complete satisfaction, and Suzy knew hers did, too. She reached down with her left hand and tousled both smaller womens' short black hair. "So, how did the three of you get into Martial Arts?"
"Our Uncle Walt," Lui replied.
"Walter Pham," Dui added. "He enrolled us in the Junior Numchuks while we were in Kindergarten."
"We prospered in that circumstance," Lui said.
"And learned the skills of war."
"Death and destruction. Weaponry and woe to our enemies."
"You're damned good," Suzy replied.
"And not only in the ways of aggression," Lui said. "We also explored the paths of pleasure, and, in addition, we found the wonder of you."
"Me?" Suzy asked.
"There is truly nothing so enjoyable as a large Caucasian," Lui said, and her sister murmured agreement.
"I could never have imagined you two, either."
"We wanted you before we were changed," Dui said, "after we read your Fetish book."
"That wasn't exactly my Fetish book," Suzy protested. "I only edited it."
"We know you wrote the bridge text," Lui said.
"And it was hot," her sister added, stroking Suzy's taut stomach, her slender fingers sending tingling waves in their wake.
Suzy looked up at the ceiling and smiled, thinking a large mirror up there might be a nice addition. "Well, it turned out to be kind of fun. I got into it."
"And we got into you," the Duc Barcs replied, sliding upward toward Suzy's face.
"We should probably get some sleep," Suzy said, realizing their intent in a heartbeat.
"Repeat that sentence without the word 'sleep.'" the sisters said, their lips soft against Suzy's throat.
* * * * *
No longer needing sleep, Florinda Bassani had spent the night walking the Web, gathering information and plotting her revenge against those who'd transformed her body into a latex statue. On the television screen, her avatar wore a form- fitting red-and-black suit with tall motocross boots and black gloves. An ugly-looking electronic machine pistol hung from her utility belt, and her bright red hair curled around her shoulders. In the grassy background a traditional rocket ship rested on four graceful fins, its sleek silver nose pointing up into the greenish-blue sky overhead.
"You have a good night?" Suzy asked, cradling her morning coffee in her lap as she sat down in front of the TV. She smoothed the folds of her cotton bathrobe over her thighs.
"Yeah," Florinda said, with an evil grin. "Derailed the orgasm express except to order, got my brain back into my own head, and slicked up my new self." She pirouetted, turning completely around twice, the long pistol slapping against one thigh. "My movements should look more fluid. Do they?"
"Definitely," Suzy replied, laughing. "You did all that in just one night, huh?"
"The first two hours. Then I got to work. I think I can get my body mobile again within a few days. I'll be like the Duc Barcs, but I can deal with that. Never wanted kids, anyway."
"But you're solid rubber, right?"
"Yeah. However, I explored the formula carefully, and there's no significant cellular difference between the mobile version — you, Carol, and the triplets — and what I am. My body was replicated in latex, just like yours, except my altered cells have molecular bonds that prevent movement. Eliminate those bonds and I'll be functional. Should take a day or two once I figure out how to set the process in motion."
"What about your Avatar? She'll still have access to a copy of your brain."
Florinda's Avatar smiled smugly. "Two of me is not a bad thing. She'll work with me to solve our problems." Behind the Avatar, a round hatch opened in the side of the spaceship, and a tall, obviously male figure began descending the ladder to the ground. His hair was black, his eyes blue, and his uniform was identical to Florinda's. He walked swiftly to stand behind Florinda, smiling out of the screen at Suzy, his big hands resting on Florinda's shoulders.
"And who's this?" Suzy asked, suppressing a guffaw.
"This is Claudio. Say 'hi' to Suzy, Claudio."
"Hi, Suzy," Claudio said, raising his right hand. "I'm here to provide Florinda with a recreational outlet."
"Hi, Claudio," Suzy replied, lifting an eyebrow at the cheerful pair as she studied Florinda's male creation. "Is that a codpiece?"
"No," the two figures said together, looking at each other with identical knowing grins. They turned and strolled back toward the spaceship, arms around one another.
"See you tonight after work, then," Suzy said weakly to the retreating couple.
"I'll have more info this evening," Florinda called back over her right shoulder, waving.
* * * * *
Suzy sat in the chair watching the television and sipping her coffee while she waited for Carol to appear. On the screen, a flock of feathered reptiles flew slowly across the strange sky, emitting harsh cries, and the big spaceship seemed to be rocking slightly.
Down the bedroom hallway, Suzy heard the toilet flush, followed by footsteps. "Coffee's made," she said as Carol walked into the room and peered at the TV.
"In the ship. With some guy named Claudio."
"Figures. Claudio Gritti. Went to Central Catholic. Family has a restaurant in Southeast, out Powell. Big guy, blue eyes, a real stud?"
Suzy nodded. "Must be him."
"No surprise there. She always had a crush on him."
"She thinks she can get herself mobile in a couple days."
"Really? Tell me about it."
Suzy repeated what Florinda had told her, answering Carol's questions as the two prepared bacon, eggs, and toast. The Duc Barcs had dressed and gone out earlier to patrol the neighborhood for any threats.
"You have a nice night?" Suzy cautiously asked her co-worker as she drained excess bacon grease into a cup.
"Energetic and dedicated, shall we say," Carol replied, blushing while she buttered four slices of whole-wheat toast. "Hui is incredibly inventive and knowledgeable."
Suzy nodded. "It took me a spell — and Five — to get used to being with women. I'd always been a guy-girl."
"Me, too. Now I'll never see an Asian woman without wondering what she knows us white folks don't. At some point, I simply gave up and let Twenty-seven take charge."
"Smart," Suzy replied, spreading another rasher of bacon across the electric skillet. She glanced at Carol. "Fun, wasn't it?"
"Oh, yeah. And did you know they liberated everything from that motel where the dead guys were staying?"
"Some more of the stuff they gave Florinda, plus four bottles of the kind that leaves you mobile but subservient. Those might be handy at some point."
Suzy thought for a moment. "Administrative Assistant Melissa Gardner, Miz Yarnell's shadow."
"Little Miss Perfect. Well, tall slender Miss Perfect, to be more accurate."
"She's not stupid, though, just inclined to look down her nose at the unwashed masses like us."
"I dunno, Suze. You've always made her uneasy, you're so good at your job, and you don't take her supercilious shit."
"All well and good, but when Miz Yarnell's all suited up and we question her, it'll be tough afterward for any post-suited changes not to be obvious to Melissa. Plus, she's going to want to be there this evening to monitor the situation in case we get out of hand."
Carol buttered more toast, grinning. "Rubber Melissa it is. The triplets can take care of her."
* * * * *
With Thanksgiving only a week away, the sun had set before Suzy, Carol, and the Duc Barcs entered Arienne Yarnell's office. Their employer stood somewhat nervously behind her large teak desk, barefoot, wearing baggy sweats.
She still looked good, elegant and confident.
"Well, I'm ready."
Melissa Gardner stood near the window, her arms folded over her chest, the full Nordstrom, outlined against the fading light of a five o'clock sunset. As much as her cold porcelain features could register any emotions other than dismissal and disdain, she looked perturbed. Suzy restrained an urge to grin as Lui took off her backpack and laid it next to the wall.
Ignoring the disapproving Melissa, Hui held out the bag with the suit in it. "Here you are, Miz Yarnell."
Her boss looked at Suzy and Carol. "So... I just get out of these clothes... and... put it on?"
Melissa stepped three paces forward, tossing her blonde bob, frowning slightly. "I may not understand exactly what is going on here, Miz Yarnell, but do you have to disrobe in front of... these people?"
"Melissa's right, boss," Suzy said. "You can go into your private washroom and make the transfer. Read the directions carefully before you put it on. Just tap on the door when you're ready to inflate. It really does help to have another person there at that point." Out of the corner of her eye, Suzy saw one the triplets — Lui probably — slip surreptitiously around behind Melissa. And as Miz Yarnell gratefully retreated into her private washroom, Lui pressed one of the control patches onto Melissa's neck.
Melissa instantly froze in place, her mouth falling slightly open, her blue eyes suddenly vacant. Suzy and Carol walked slowly over to the motionless figure.
"She looks even more like a mannequin than usual, Suze," Carol said, smiling at the helpless woman, who gave no response to the words, continuing to stare ahead blankly.
"Blindfold her," Suzy told the triplets, gesturing at a chair against the wall. "Have her sit down over there. Give her the treatment. When this's over, we'll imprint her with you three. That should make certain she doesn't cause any problems in the future."
"Come, Melissa, dear," Lui said sweetly, steering the elegant mind-controlled woman toward the empty chair. "We have something nice for you to drink." Melissa moved woodenly to the chair and sat down. Dui handed her a pint bottle of cream-colored liquid, watched as Melissa tilted the bottle up and swallowed the contents. When she'd handed the bottle back to Dui, Hui tied a blindfold over her eyes, then kissed Melissa on her left cheek. "We will be very kind to you, Melissa, as very kind as you will be very obedient."
Again, Melissa Gardner gave no response.
While they waited, Dui donned a compact Sony wireless video headset and tapped into the Security system, the screen covering her eyes completely. She monitored the channels silently. Another ten minutes passed before Arienne Yarnell knocked loudly on the washroom door. "Here we go, guys," Suzy said as she walked toward the washroom. "Ready with the Master Remote, Lui."
Once inside the room with the door closed behind her, Suzy found herself amused at her nude boss's alternating embarrassment and excitement. "Weird sensation, isn't it?" she asked as she connected the hose to Miz Yarnell's navel and cracked the valve on the inflating tank, pleased when the suit began to acquire new contours. Arienne Yarnell's original body had been similar to Carol's, nowhere near as thin as Suzy's, so changes were minimal. Even the honey-blonde acrylic hair mimicked Miz Yarnell's. Only the number Eleven on her forehead gave the game away.
"There's something — some things — going up inside me!" Suzy's employer exclaimed, her eyes wide with surprise. Her hands fluttered over her breasts and crotch, trying to cover herself with very little success.
"You're turning into a Love Doll, boss, being modified accordingly." Suzy grinned at the publisher's concern. "Feels good, doesn't it?"
"Well, yes, but I know if I could still blush any longer, I certainly would be." She looked down at her perfect breasts and altered privates. "Oh, my. Everything down there looks so different."
Suzy chuckled. "You're becoming accessible in new ways, Miz Yarnell. Part of the job description."
Her boss' latex lips curved into a rather smug smile, her eyes took on a dreamy faraway look, and she cradled her newly firm breasts. "It feels awfully nice, Suzy. But I'm vulnerable now to a Master Remote, aren't I?"
"Very much so. We removed and destroyed the activation box packed with your suit, but the Master Remote continues to be a threat."
Still smiling, Miz Yarnell reached out and ran the fingertips of her right hand over Suzy's left cheek and Suzy felt the predictable mild ramping up of passion that the touch of another of her kind kindled. "You won't change me, will you, Suzy?"
Suzy returned her boss' smile. "I honestly don't think it's going to come to that. Besides, you have a business to run."
"I do, don't I?" She looked up into Suzy's eyes, and her expression became more intimate. "I'm seeing you in a whole new light, my dear. A new, seductive light that shines into all those hidden places."
"That's just the suit talking, Miz Yarnell. I know you can't help saying those things, but my hidden places are well- and regularly-occupied, and our employer-employee relationship would only suffer if we embarked on any sort of physical relationship."
Arienne Yarnell sighed. "I suppose." She touched Suzy's face again. "It's that you're so... attractive."
Suzy took her boss' hands in hers. "Let's get those warm-ups back on, shall we?"
"I wonder what Melissa will think when she sees me?" Miz Yarnell asked as she pulled on her clothes. Her facial expression remained vague and reflective.
"I doubt she'll even notice," Suzy replied, smiling to herself.
* * * * *
"We are in possible serious difficulty," Dui said when Suzy and their boss re-entered the office.
"What?" Suzy asked.
"Three men just let themselves in the employee's entrance on the main floor. Two of them are carrying flamethrowers."
"Rubber burns," Carol said.
"They are moving rapidly and purposefully," Dui continued.
"They mean to destroy us," Hui and Lui said.
"They are coming up the stairs to the second level," Dui said.
"What'll we do?" Suzy asked.
"Meet them before they get here," Lui said, retrieving her backpack. "I have two smoke grenades. We three take them from the side hallways on this level after detonating the grenades."
"I have the sprinkler system," Dui said. "If I turn on the system only in the main hallway, it will add to their confusion and uncertainty."
"Good," Suzy replied, snapping open her cell phone. Manning was on her speed dial. She hit his number, waited until he answered. "Roger. Suzy Conlon here. No, not so fine. We're at the Yarnell offices, and we have three gentlemen with flamethrowers coming to kill us. A little action on your part would be great. Speed would be advisable. They seem to have the floorplan and know where we might be. Twenty minutes? Sure. We'll try not to melt or anything."
She hung up, faced her companions. "Miz Yarnell, go back into your washroom."
"What about Melissa?"
Suzy glanced at the blind-folded, seated figure, who looked to have rubberized nicely. "Leave her there, I guess. We should be able to distract them, and Manning's on his way. If you stay in there and keep quiet, you should be safe and relatively sound."
"We must go to meet them," the triplets said, standing near the door with their pistols ready.
"Uh, guys," Suzy said. "Manning said he wants them alive and conversant."
Hui snorted, looked at her sisters. "Somewhat healthy, then."
"Wounded only in their extremities," Lui said.
"Jabbering readily," Dui said, grinning as she jacked in a round.
Corporate offices were on the fourth floor. Their opponents were now on the third floor and trotting the length of the main hallway, the two with the flamethrowers carrying their weapons in the ready position while their apparent leader checked the offices on that level.
"They are not completely certain where we are," Dui said. "But are rapidly searching the third floor. They will arrive on this floor from the south stairwell within a very few minutes."
Lui held up her smoke grenades. "One down the stairwell on your word, sister. That will activate the sprinkler system on the stairs. They will burst onto this level in haste and confusion."
"Also wet," Hui added.
"Where do we go?" Suzy and Carol asked.
The Duc Barcs thought for a moment, identical expressions on their faces. "Stand in the center of the hallway," Hui said finally, "each prepared to leap into a side doorway the instant they light up the flamethrowers."
"I will initiate the sprinklers here when the stairwell door opens," Dui said.
Lui nodded agreement. "We will take them from either side and hopefully from behind when they react to your presence, which should distract them sufficiently."
"We'll yell," Carol said. "Right, Suze?"
Suzy gave her a sick look. "Sure. You bet."
The triplets scampered to the end of the hall and positioned themselves against the walls. On Dui's cue, Lui cracked the stairwell door a few inches and lobbed a smoke grenade through the opening. Suzy heard the sprinklers kick in a few seconds later. She could see smoke billowing on the other side of the glass panel in the heavy metal door, and her breath caught in her throat.
The door smashed open and three bulky figures wearing gasmasks crashed through, pausing a few feet in. Smoke swirled around them, and the sprinklers overhead turned on.
"Hey, asswipes!" Carol shouted.
"Come get us!" Suzy added, not so forcefully. She was already soaked.
A wall of flame roared down the hallway at them, and they leapt for safety.
Suzy's feet slipped on the wet carpeting and she fell clumsily to the floor as a wave of fire swirled by a few inches above her head. Momentarily blinded, Suzy plastered herself against the floor and hoped she'd live.
The flames abruptly stopped. Suzy rolled onto her right side and tried to see though the smoke and falling water to the end of the hall. She heard thumps, thuds, and cries of pain, then silence.
Cautiously climbing to her hands and knees, Suzy took stock of herself and her surroundings. The walls were blackened, and her clothes and the saturated carpet steamed. Bits of ceiling tiles fell onto her back, sizzling. She was certain she looked as though she'd been thrown into a swimming pool. "You guys okay?" she called down the hall.
"We have them all," one the Duc Barcs answered through the murk.
"You look like shit, Suze," Carol said, giving Suzy a hand up. "A drowned rubber rat with holes in the back of your T-shirt."
"I feel okay," Suzy replied, examining what she could see of herself. "I'm one big smudge, though."
"Can you turn off the sprinklers, Dui?" Carol shouted through the dissipating smoke.
"Done," Dui yelled back, and the water stopped falling.
Roger Manning's voice echoed from the opposite end of the hall. "Looks like we missed all the fun."
To Be Continued.... (eventually)