Footsteps echoed through the deserted museum as two young women walked into the sculpture gallery. “You have to admit it’s a bit odd, Renzi,” one of them said, “I mean, Kyla’s been missing for nearly four months now, and all you can tell me is that she’s been working on some secret project. And then suddenly you claim that she’s arranged to meet us in the museum after hours. Did we suddenly wander into a spy novel or something?”
Renzi chuckled. “I can see how it might look that way, Simry, but there’s really nothing sinister about it. The only kind of espionage we’re worried about is industrial. There are some potentially lucrative discoveries involved that might be compromised by premature disclosure.”
“Discoveries involving an art museum?” Simry replied. “Like what - a new method of cleaning paintings?”
Renzi gave another chuckle. “Oh, no, Simry. We’re talking about a technological breakthrough that has thousands of potential uses. Well... maybe a dozen or two, at least.”
“All right,” said Simry. “So there’s this big scientific breakthrough. What has that got to do with Kyla? She’s not a scientist.”
“No, she’s not, but we both happen to know some of the people involved in the development project, and she’s been helping to test it out.”
“Yes, but four whole months without a word from her? Couldn’t she at least have called once in a while, just to set my mind at rest?”
“No, unfortunately she couldn’t.” Renzi took Simry’s hands in hers. “I’m sorry, Simry. I guess we should have told you something earlier to keep you from worrying, but for reasons involved with the project it’s been necessary for Kyla to remain completely... incommunicado.”
Simry and Renzi were now standing in the heart of the sculpture gallery, between two rows of nude heroes and deities.
Renzi looked around admiringly at the statues. “You know, Simry,” she said, “I’ve always liked coming here, even as a child. Sometimes I’d ask my parents to bring me. We lived in a small town below the Ridge back then, and they couldn’t always afford the fare into the city, but when they could it was always the highlight of my week.”
Simry wasn’t sure what relevance Renzi’s reminiscences had to the mystery of their friend’s whereabouts, but she assumed there had to be one.
Renzi continued: “I admired all the paintings and ceramics and antique furniture, and I loved the feeling of size and space you got from just being in the building. But of course it was the traditional statues that I really liked. I was always amazed at how lifelike the sculptors had made them.”
Moving to stand before one lifesize female figure, Renzi said, “Here’s one of the more recent acquisitions. She’s really sexy... don’t you think?” The last was accompanied by a wry smile in Simry’s direction.
“I suppose so,” replied Simry, stepping over to Renzi’s side. The marble nude of a girl about their own age stood upon a cubit-high pedestal, captured in a languid pose that suggested she had just woken from sleep... or had just made love. Simry was sure she had never seen the statue before, yet she couldn’t help feeling there was something familiar about it.
“Yes,” said Simry, “as a piece of sculpture it’s very well done. It has a fine balance of innocence and seductiveness. But on the whole, I prefer my lovers to be flesh and blood.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dismiss sculpture quite so lightly,” Renzi said, grinning in a way that suggested she was about to reveal the punchline to a private joke. “Still, if it’s flesh and blood you want...”
While Simry looked on dumbfounded, the girl who had been a statue flexed her fingers, then sighed and stretched languidly before turning to look down at Renzi.
Kyla! thought Simry. But how...?
“Hello, Renzi,” said Kyla. “How long has it been?”
“Almost four months,” Renzi told her.
“Really? Wow. It didn’t feel that long.”
As Renzi helped the former statue down off her pedestal and the two of them embraced, Simry finally found her tongue. “Kyla, how is... that’s impossible. You were stone!”
The naked girl smiled and said, “Oh, hello, Simry. Did you miss me? Well, at least now you know why I couldn’t call.”
“Kyla wasn’t really stone,” Renzi explained. “It’s a form of molecular stasis that can produce the appearance of stone. So what better place to test it than an art gallery, where our pretty test subject here -” (Kyla swatted her) “- would be subjected to scrutiny by hundreds of visitors every day? If they were fooled into thinking she was a real statue, then we could be sure the stasis was working properly. So, Kyla, how do you feel after spending four months as a statue? No stiffness or discomfort?”
“No, I’m fine,” Kyla smiled. “I feel ready for anything. Maybe I’ll start by treating Simry to dinner at a nice restaurant, and then later... well, I guess we’ll just take it from there.”
Simry was still finding the whole situation a little hard to take in, but after a moment she managed to say, “Um, Kyla... you do realise you’re still naked, don’t you?”
Kyla laughed. “Don’t worry, nobody’s going to see except the pair of you. Renzi’s arranged for the security cameras to have a temporary glitch. Anyway, my being naked didn’t bother you when I was a statue, did it? You said I had, what was it? ‘A fine balance of innocence and seductiveness’. Thanks.”
“Wha... wait a minute,” said Simry. “You heard what I said while you were a statue? You were conscious?”
“Well... not exactly,” said Kyla. “It’s more like a kind of waking trance. Feels kinda nice, actually. While you’re in it you’re not really aware of the passage of time, but once you’re out of it you can remember everything you saw and heard while you were frozen.”
“This experiment does have a serious purpose,” said Renzi. “It’s the first step toward developing a reliable form of suspended animation. So you see what I meant about it being commercially sensitive.”
Simry looked at the empty pedestal. “So, um... what happens now? Will the museum say the statue’s been removed for cleaning or something?” Then another thought struck her. “Wait... the doorman had instructions to let two of us in for tonight’s ‘private viewing’. When we walk out again, how will we explain where the third one came from? Especially if she’s still naked!”
“Oh, rest assured, there will be a statue there when the museum reopens tomorrow,” said Kyla. “It won’t be the same one, mind you, but we’re counting on nobody noticing. And that means that only two of us will be walking out of here tonight.”
“Which reminds me,” said Renzi, “it’s about time, isn’t it?” And with that, she began to undress.
Simry was beginning to catch on. “Oh... you mean that the two of you...”
“Exactly,” said Renzi, removing the last of her clothing. “We’re not identical, but we’ve got the same height and build. That’s one reason we were both chosen for this experiment. Notice how we’ve also both got the same hairstyle right now?”
Renzi and Kyla moved to stand next to each other. “See?” said Kyla. “Squint and you’ll have trouble telling us apart.” She slapped Renzi’s backside playfully.
“Hey, careful,” said Renzi. “I can’t have any telltale swellings.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Kyla. “The thought of you being a sexy statue for the next few months is giving me a swelling already.”
“Behave,” said Renzi, returning the slap.
To Simry the whole thing still seemed somewhat unreal, and she couldn’t think of anything to say while Kyla put on Renzi’s discarded clothes and picked up the small control device, then helped Renzi climb onto the pedestal. Once in the “statue’s” place, Renzi imitated its posture.
“It’s amazing to think,” said Renzi, “that after all the years I’ve loved the statues in this gallery, I’m actually about to become one of them! You can’t imagine what a thrill that is for me. All right, Kyla, how’s my pose?”
“I think your right knee needs to come forward a fraction... that’s it. Now tilt your head up just a little bit more... take your left arm up a little... that’s it. Perfect. If there’s anything else you want to say to me and Simry, now’s your last chance for a while.”
“Just look after each other, and be sure to come and visit me from time to time. Love you.”
“You too,” they both replied. Then Kyla pointed the control unit at the pedestal, and they watched as their friend’s body rippled and took on the appearance of stone.
Kyla walked forward and touched Renzi’s foot. It not only looked like marble, but felt like it as well. The fine hairs on her skin seemed to have been flattened by the stasis process.
“Wow. That is so amazing,” said Simry. “If I didn’t know, I’d never guess that she was alive.”
“That’s more or less the idea,” chuckled Kyla.
“And she looks so sexy as a statue. Just like you did.”
“Oh, yes. And she’ll be feeling really sexy all the time she’s frozen as well. That was the part I didn’t tell her before. I wanted it to be a surprise. It feels sooo nice...”
She smiled for a moment, remembering. Then she turned to the frozen Renzi and said, “Well, goodnight, Renzi. We will come and visit, I promise, and we’ll talk to you again in a few months.”
“Um, yeah, see you soon, Renzi,” said Simry. “You look terrific.”
As Kyla and Simry made their way back along the echoing corridor, Kyla said, “Of course, after we’ve both been statues a couple of times we’ll install a real statue in our place... well, when I say a real one, more like a plastic replica, but it’ll also be in stasis so people still won’t be able to tell the difference.
“Now, how about that dinner? I wasn’t joking about that. No expense spared. Renzi and I have both been paid well for volunteering, and for the last four months my pay has done nothing but gather interest! And then after dinner...” she paused and turned to give Simry a seductive look. “Well, you know, I haven’t made love in four months either.”
Simry smiled wryly. “Yes, but as I recall, you said it didn’t feel like four months. To me it did.” She embraced Kyla tightly. “Renzi kept me company, of course, but I missed you, Kyla. We’ve both got some catching up to do.”
They kissed for a long moment. Then a thoughtful expression crossed Kyla’s face.
“What?” said Simry. “What is it?”
“Oh... it’s just occurred to me,” said Kyla with a grin. “You’re about the same height and build as me and Renzi, aren’t you?”
It took Simry a moment to catch her meaning, and then she returned the grin and the two girls walked on with their arms about each other’s waists.