Returning to camp, the surviving members of the group spent a long, sleepless night by the fire. Using the abandoned levitation device formally used by Commander Stealth, Lieutenant Godiva lifted the statue of Commander Stealth effortlessly to a spot near the fire. Dancing light played off her hardened curves as she stood completely motionless, as she’d probably remain until the end of time. Lieutenant Godiva also made an attempt to lift Esper’s golden visage, only to find her shear weight was incapable of being moved by the tiny contraption. Frustrated, Lieutenant Godiva cursed herself and her inability to protect her stiffened ally from thieves or vandals.
As dawn arose, Lieutenant Godiva briefed Sergeant Magnum and Lady Petula on her plan to build a bridge to get across the golden river. Slicing a wedge out of a massive tree trunk with a laser gun, Sergeant Magnum shouted, “Timber!” as the tree toppled. As estimated, the long trunk did manage to span the river once sliced.
After gathering their gear and saying goodbye to their frozen allies, the team steadied themselves for the arduous trek across their makeshift bridge. The slick bark made the going difficult, but one by one they each managed to make it across. From across the river, Esper’s frozen body glimmered like a jewel in the morning sun.
Hacking their way through the rough underbrush, the team headed north. After about two hours of hiking, Lieutenant Godiva halted the team, saying, “This should be the first rendezvous point.”
They each scanned the area, searching for any trace of the missing excursion team. Suddenly, Lady Petula shouted out frantically, “Hey, I think I found something!” As Sergeant Magnum and Lieutenant Godiva approached, they could plainly see what Lady Petula had found. Underneath a pile of leaves and debris they found a crystal clear statue of a lady dressed in silver, just like Lieutenant Godiva. She was sprawled on her stomach, with her bare feet lifted in the air behind her. Her arms were curled under her head, her eyes closed. She seemed to be frozen while sleeping somehow. Lady Petula backed away from her chilling discovery, only to trip on another group of rigid humans. Clearing away the underbrush surrounding the prone figures, they gasped as they saw a man and woman frozen during the act of making love. Both were clear, just like the first victim, but these two obviously weren’t sleeping when captured. The male was poised on top of the female; their waists locked together in final surge of reckless passion. The female’s legs were wrapped tightly around the male’s waist, toes pointed in tense pleasure. On their faces, a look of silent ecstasy was carved onto their reflective facial features.
Studying the icy tableaux, Lieutenant Godiva was shocked to find they all had been transformed into solid diamond. Carefully, she reached around each statue’s neck to pull off their identification tags. Entering the names into her computer, she whispered to her stunned colleagues, “Say hello to Lady Venus, Lieutenant Vanessa and Commander Henderson, all members of the missing crew.”
From around the corner, Sergeant Magnum said plainly, “Well, here’s another one to scratch off your list.” Pointing to the other side of a thick tree trunk, the others followed him to reveal another rigid female statue. Pressed up against the coarse bark, this seductive lady looked simply terrified. Her palms were anxiously pressed against the tree, as if she had been backed into a corner, yet had no where else to run. On her tiny face could be seen lines of distress, her mouth forming a now silent scream of agony. Sergeant Magnum touched one of the nude statue’s cold breasts and said, “It’s a shame, too. She looks like a real beauty. If only she were still flesh, I’d jump her bones in an instant.”
“Real sensitive, tough guy,” said Lady Petula harshly. Digging through the underbrush, she produced several torn garments from the ground. “Looks like some other pervert likes the way she looks naked, as well.”
Lieutenant Godiva reached around her hard neck, producing a small identification tag. “Her name was Greta,” she said as she entered the information into her tiny computer. “That leaves only Peter Grimes. Let’s search the area to see if we can find him out here as well.”
“Sure thing, boss lady,” said Sergeant Magnum mockingly. Splitting up, they surveyed the entire region for any trace of the missing science officer. After about three hours of tedious searching, they all concluded that he’d somehow escaped the danger that transformed the rest of his team into rare diamond sculptures. Although the search for Scientist Grimes proved to be fruitless, Lieutenant Godiva did manage to find Commander Henderson’s personal log.
Lieutenant Godiva quickly got to work scanning the lengthy document. Stopping every once in a while to enter pertinent information into her own computer, she finally reached the end of the doomed commander’s log. Turning to Sergeant Magnum and Lady Petula, Lieutenant Godiva said excitedly, “Now I understand why it was so important to find this group. They managed to find information regarding the secret bunker!” She further explained to her stunned team how Commander Henderson’s team had managed to capture a Nil Corporation spy. “After several sessions of torture, this spy named Zed revealed everything to Commander Henderson’s crew, including the secret location of the underground caverns.”
A baffled Lady Petula asked, “Where is this Zed now?”
“Dead. Apparently he killed himself with a suicide pill. Commander Henderson assumed the spy was too scared of what his commanders would do to him after being missing so long, that Zed decided to take matters into his own hands.”
Sergeant Magnum, also confused, asked, “How do we know this isn’t another trap? After all, we know what happened to Commander Henderson’s crew…”
“We don’t. I’m afraid we’re still going to need to keep up our guard for as long as we’re out here. If the information is deliberately incorrect, we’ll find out when we get there.” Scratching her head, she added, “Besides, this is all we have to go on so far.”
Lieutenant Godiva waited for a response from her apprehensive crew. Slowly, Lady Petula nodded silently while Sergeant Magnum said gruffly, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Lieutenant. Regardless, I’ve got your back, ma’am.”
“Alright then, troops! Let’s gather up all our gear and head out!” Lieutenant Godiva pocketed Commander Henderson’s small computer into her holster, then pointed north. “We’ll soon know what waits for us over there,” said Lieutenant Godiva triumphantly.
After travelling for several hours, the party found the underbrush becoming less lush and dense. The dark coffee-colored soil began to lighten, becoming a sandy tan. Small weeds sprawled under their feet, and the air felt more arid than the thick jungle atmosphere now departed. As the afternoon sun began to hide itself in the distance, the travelers began to feel chilled by the cool, dry air surrounding them. Just as fatigue began to slow the tiring crew, Lady Petula spotted a small adobe hut just ahead. “We desperately need shelter,” begged Lady Petula, “or we’ll die from exposure out here.”
Scanning the unknown structure, Lieutenant Godiva replied, “I agree, Lady Petula, but we need to be careful. According to this, there’s already a life form inside.” After evaluating her pale goosebumps for a moment, Lieutenant Godiva grabbed her silver staff and said, “Alright then, let’s go see who’s inside!”
Creeping up to the front door, the three adventurers quietly swung the door open, weapons drawn against any potential foe. Inside, near a blistering fire, a slight man sat at a sturdy table playing solitaire. Shocked by the stealth-like appearance of the weary team, he spun around in his chair to face them. His scarred face bleached of all color as he studied the three armed soldiers standing in his doorway. Stammering slightly, he said, “D-don’t shoot! I’m n-not armed!”
Lieutenant Godiva holstered her weapon, and held her arms out in a gesture of peace. “We don’t mean to harm you. We’re simply looking for shelter for the evening.”
The small man’s look of fear began to diminish as he introduced himself. “My name is P-Peter. Peter Grimes. I’ve been stranded out here for two days now.”
Lieutenant Godiva reached into her pocket slowly, producing the four tags found earlier. “We’ve been looking for you, Scientist Grimes. Earlier today, we encountered your excursion team at the outskirts of the jungle. My name is Lieutenant Godiva,” said the officer calmly. Pointing at each of her teammates, she proceeded to introduce them as well. “These are the brave members of my crew. To the left is Sergeant Magnum, demolition expert, and to the right is Lady Petula, mission operative.” They each nodded a warm welcome to the timid science officer.
“That’s a relief,” sighed Scientist Grimes. “It’s a pleasure to meet all of you. Please, come on in and warm yourselves by the fire.” Lady Petula and Sergeant Magnum closed the door behind themselves as they entered the small building. Tucking their weapons away, they both took a seat by the fire.
Scientist Grimes stoked the fire with a long stick, then stacked his playing cards, tucking them into his backpack. Breaking the momentary silence, he said somberly, “So, you know what happened to the rest of my team, then.”
“Yes,” replied Lieutenant Godiva, “all of them were turned into diamond statues. It appeared as if they were frozen quite suddenly.”
Peter Grimes lowered his eyes as he tried to recall the horrible incident in his mind. Turning to the three of them, he began to explain the events surrounding his team’s shocking metamorphosis. “It all happened during the second night out here in the wilderness. We’d just buried the Nil Corporation spy, Zed, and settled down for a night of rest. I had trouble sleeping, so I left the campsite around 2 a.m. to take some samples of the local flora. While I was away, I heard a piercing scream that sounded like Greta’s voice, so I ran quickly back to camp. Once I had arrived, I saw a menacing figure looming over Greta. As I approached closer, I saw the moonlight reflecting through her and knew she’d been changed by this beast somehow. As he tore off her clothes, I grabbed my weapon, but by then the hairy animal had already begun to flee. I shot at him, but he got away from me. I must have tracked him for at least two miles, but eventually, I lost his trail and headed back to my team. Upon examining them, I found the same results as you did, Lieutenant Godiva. I don’t know how, but each of them had been transformed into diamond statues. Ever since then,” said the grief-ridden scientist, “I’ve been searching this wasteland for that hairy beast.”
“Have you spotted him yet?” asked Lady Petula excitedly.
“Not yet, I’m afraid,” said the troubled Scientist Grimes. “But when I do, I promise you I’ll send that miserable creature back to hell where it belongs.” Grime’s hands shook as he poured himself a glass of whiskey. Lieutenant Godiva recorded several entries into her log as she studied the unstable science officer. Peter Grimes steadied himself as he tossed back a large gulp of burning liquor. “I know I’m supposed to feel lucky for not dying with my crew, but somehow I feel cursed by not suffering with them during their time of need.”
“I understand how you feel, Mr. Grimes,” said Lady Petula sympathetically. “Our Commander saved me from petrifaction by a Cockatrice, but she transformed into a stone statue in my place. Now I feel hollow inside, as if I had doomed her myself.”
“I know how bravely you fought against that Cockatrice,” consoled Lieutenant Godiva. She reached out and gave poor Lady Petula a reassuring hug.
After several hours of swapping stories, they decided to turn in for the evening. Sergeant Magnum was in charge of the first watch, so he packed up some gear and headed outside to tour the grounds.
Finding it difficult to sleep, Peter Grimes busied himself reluctantly.
‘Too bad they haven’t asked me to join them yet,’ he thought to himself
as he ran his hands through the sleepy Lady Petula’s ebony hair.
Turner finally entered, with the usual entourage at his heels. He took a long look at his faithful field operative for a moment. Seeing the obvious distress on Xavier’s pale face, he ran several scenarios through his mind silently. There was a tight timetable to consider, especially once the secret of this “contest” was revealed to the unsuspecting public. Yet, as he considered the request in his hand, he couldn’t deny Xavier’s diligent service to the Nil Corporation throughout the years. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Turner addressed his field operative. “I’ve read your request for termination regarding the Cockatrice incident. Taking everything into account, I have made a decision. Even though this request strays from our agenda, I’ve decided to grant you this termination. Use it wisely,” ordered the pasty leader, “one day is all you’ll be granted to perform your new task.”
“Understood, sir!” shouted a gleeful Xavier as he rubbed his hands together
maniacally. As he strutted out of the elegant office, he plotted
his next move against an unsuspecting Sergeant Magnum.
As she headed back into the warmth of the adobe building, she could see her companions eating breakfast from the rations held by Sergeant Magnum. The shutters had already been swung wide open, throwing radiant sunlight across the well-built dinner table. Lady Petula sat next to Scientist Grimes, spooning hash into her tiny mouth. All the time she seemed to be flirting with the lone scientist. The calculated expression on the mysterious science officer’s face worried Lieutenant Godiva. There was something intangible that she didn’t like about him, although she had no reason to doubt his word, yet.
Lieutenant Godiva joined in on the breakfast festivities, welcoming the warm nutrition. As she finished, she could see Lady Petula kissing Scientist Grimes on the cheek, laughing as he spoke. He handed her a glass of whiskey which she slurped down recklessly.
“Before you all head out towards your mission objective,” said the smiling Grimes, “I’d like to capture the moment with a holo-picture.” He reached into his travel bag, producing a small handheld camera. Sergeant Magnum ignored the odd request as he focused his energy on preparing for the long excursion ahead.
“Okay,” said Lady Petula giddily. “Take my picture first!” She struck several seductive poses, tempting the science officer with her ravishing body. Blowing kisses to him, she hopped up on the tabletop, crossing her legs delicately. Placing her palms down on the table, she arched her back slightly, causing her ample breasts to protrude proudly. Slowing moving her face into a pouty smile, she took a deep breath, then held it as she waited for him to snap his shot. Lieutenant Godiva beamed as she watched her teammate smile for the first time since Esper’s demise.
“You look perfect. Hold it!” he mused as he snapped the shutter. A brilliant flash washed over the stunning beauty, temporarily blinding everyone in the room. As the spots began to fade from their eyes, Lady Petula seemed to be playing, still holding her magic pose for the camera.
“Okay, stop hamming it up, Petula, we’ve got to get going!” commanded Lieutenant Godiva as she grew more impatient. After receiving no response from her officer, Lieutenant Godiva suddenly realized something was very wrong with Lady Petula. She ran up to her paralyzed ally, tears beginning to well up in her ocean eyes. Sergeant Magnum quickly lunged out at the smirking scientist, tackling him with a brutal blow. Pinning him against the hard mud floor, he pressed his forearm against Grime’s neck.
“What have you done to her!” screamed an enraged Sergeant Magnum, the veins in his neck pounding with adrenaline. Looking up from the ground, Magnum could see Lady Petula’s feet and legs begin to glow. A loud droning sound echoed within the tiny room, as Lady Petula seemed to change right before their eyes. Quickly, both Lieutenant Godiva and Sergeant Magnum concluded the obvious, that Scientist Grimes had transformed his own crew using that mysterious camera. Now, poor Lady Petula was also becoming a victim of the same deceptive trap as her feet slowly began to harden into solid diamond. Grabbing a blaster from his holster, Sergeant Magnum aimed the powerful weapon right between the damned science officer’s eyes and fired. Sparks flew across the floor, reflecting off of Lady Petula’s now glistening ankles and feet. Sergeant Magnum suddenly felt a surge of electricity course through his body, throwing him against the wall. Many colored wires arced with power from the decapitated villain’s neck. “He’s a fucking android!” screamed Sergeant Magnum, before slipping out of consciousness. Grabbing Lady Petula’s abandoned sword, Lieutenant Godiva stabbed and sliced at the evil robot. The conniving machine convulsed on the ground, chirping maniacally until the infuriated lieutenant finally landed a fatal blow straight into the middle of its titanium torso.
Turning to face her doomed friend, Lieutenant Godiva wept as she watched Lady Petula’s lithe waist transform into clear diamond. As the wave of energy lapped at Lady Petula’s abundant breasts, hardening them gracefully into clear spheres of glassy crystal, Lieutenant Godiva caressed Lady Petula’s precious face, still holding that sultry smile on her succulent lips. “I’ll miss you,” moaned Lieutenant Godiva as the crystalline transformation swept its way up Lady Petula’s poised neck, trapping her once warm flesh into cold gemstone. With relentless efficiency, the chilling conversion swept across Lady Petula’s dazzling facial features, rendering every dimple in amazing detail. Her alluring brown eyes began to quickly lose their color, becoming transparent orbs of pure diamond. The morning sun reflected prisms throughout the room as poor Lady Petula continued to change into her new rigid form. Shaking with fear and revulsion, Lieutenant Godiva helplessly watched as the tenacious process completed, forming Lady Petula’s long black hair into a fused mass of reflective glass-like diamond.
Lieutenant Godiva, overcome by grief, somberly hugged the now immovable
statue that had once been the vibrant Lady Petula. She already felt
cold and hard, no longer the being of flesh that the lieutenant had grown
to love over the past few days. Feeling more alone than she’d ever
felt in her life, Lieutenant Godiva quickly turned her attention to the
injured Sergeant Magnum, still huddled in a heap on the floor after being
violently jolted with massive amounts of electricity.
‘How am I going to whittle all this great stuff down to two hours?’ thought the red-eyed man. Turning his attention away from the clock and back to the screen, he watched in awe as a young beauty transformed into solid gold from head to toe along the banks of a shimmering yellow river. ‘Beautiful transition,’ he thought. ‘If only she weren’t completely naked, I could use it for the show. I wonder why the computer effects people didn’t keep her clothes on? Still, I’m sure I can fit it in somehow.’ Grabbing a pointer, he cropped in the gilded girl’s face and shoulders, then overlaid a holo-photo of the contestant from her file. Changing the perspective angle of the 3-D holograph photo to match the statue’s camera angle, he then proceeded to create a morph from the file photo to the final golden bust found in the footage. Not pleased with the results of the morph, he eventually decided to crop the entire transformation process, which took about twenty minutes for the computer to auto-crop. Once that arduous process was complete, it was then a simple task to edit in the sound to match the new visual perspective. Cutting in a few reactions from the rest of the party completed the haunting scene, now ready for public viewing.
“I AM a GENIUS!” he exclaimed as he lit up a cigarette. Wasting no further time in celebration, he scanned forward, browsing through some nighttime exposures. Suddenly, he halted the fast-forwarding machine as he saw a flutter of activity on the screen. Rewinding the footage to the beginning of the battle, he watched intensely as four adventurers defended themselves against a winged opponent. Suddenly, the bird lashed out at the crew. A striking black woman lunged out for her teammate, bravely pushing her away from imminent danger. However, within moments, her own skin began to pale and stiffen as the bird crashed to the rocky beach. ‘Wow,’ thought the overworked editor, ‘this footage is fantastic!’ Turning up the sound, he marveled at the tender dialogue between the petrifying commander and her team. Watching the scene from several angles, he was enthralled by this compelling turn of events. ‘I think we found our stars for this episode.’
Suddenly, a nagging concern began to haunt him as he finished cutting together the various angles into one dramatic collage. ‘I gotta get some sleep,’ thought the exhausted man. ‘There’s no way any of this could be real. This is just a game, isn’t it?’ Flipping a switch, he began to study the infrared recording to prove he was just being paranoid. To his utter shock, he found the hot, red and orange silhouette of the commander began to glow blue as her temperature plummeted, following the wave of petrifaction locking her body into stone.
‘Jesus Christ!’ thought the shaking man. Unable to simply explain his fears away, he began to rock back and forth in his chair. ‘There’s no way her temperature could have dropped so suddenly!’ Realizing the cruel truth, he began to grow angry with the Nil Corporation for requesting his services. ‘I’ve done a lot of creepy films,’ he steamed, ‘but I’ve never actually done a snuff film, until now.’ Feeling guilty for previously enjoying the amazing images he’d been editing, he cursed himself for being so gullible.
All of a sudden, he heard a woman’s voice paging him over the intercom. “How’s the editing going, Mr. Lambert?”
Steadying his voice, he said dryly, “It’s going well, Katherine. I only need 20 more minutes of footage to complete the show.” Glancing over his shoulder, he suddenly realized he was being observed through the security camera.
“Sounds good, Eddie,” said the voice calmly. “Remember, we need to get your edit down to programming within 2 hours.”
“Understood, Ms. Roth. It’ll be ready in time.”
To be continued...
On to Part Three