Sergeant Magnum surveyed his wounds as he gasped in as much air as his weary lungs would hold. The chase had been going non-stop for well over an hour now, and fatigue was affecting his ability to flee almost as much as the gaping wound in his leg did. Using his thumb and index finger, he attempted to pull out as many slivers from the throbbing gash as he could, but most of them were embedded too deep within his aching thigh muscle to be extricated.
Spotting an exposed tendon on his right knee, Sergeant Magnum thought to himself, ‘Better put me on the disabled list, coach!’ Reaching down, he slapped a handful of mud onto his tattered leg, then reapplied his blood soaked bandana, tying it tightly around the stinging wound. Wincing in excruciating agony, the brash sergeant steadied himself as he lifted his bones off of the muddy ground.
The sound of twigs cracking sent the sergeant spinning, until he could see his pursuer directly behind him, smiling from ear to ear. “At last, we meet, Sergeant Magnum!”
“Who are you?” asked a weary Sergeant Magnum.
“My name is Xavier, but I might as well be the Grim Reaper for as long as you’ll be living,” said the disgruntled Nil Corporation agent. “It’s a whimsical thing, watching the way you pathetic humans act,” said the armed man sarcastically. “Your species is supposed to be a descendant of the gentle ape, but I think you have more in common with locusts than with your humble cousin. You spread like a plague across this planet, breeding relentlessly, devouring every resource, then you dump all your putrid waste back into the Earth, contaminating the very planet you call home.” Becoming more enraged with every word, Xavier scowled as he continued. “What bothers me the most about you worthless humans is the fact that you think you’re the only ‘enlightened’ species in the galaxy. Then you use this fallacy of supremacy to justify the use of lethal force. Every other species in the known galaxy kills as a matter of survival, but for you humans killing is a game, a cheap thrill, and not a method of survival. You disgust me!”
“Then what exactly do you think that canon on your arm is for? Look at my leg! You consider yourself to be more civil and advanced than me, yet you seem to have no problem with dispatching me with lethal force.” Limping closer to the accusing alien, he raised his arms above his head to show the creature that he was unarmed as well as injured. “I’ve never even met you before today, Xavier, but I know what your species has been doing to my friends. Trapping them helplessly within their own bodies, then draining them of their energy to suit your needs. You harvest us like animals, then act indignant that we would offer some sort of resistance. Maybe your definition of cruelty differs from mine, but I believe what you’ve done to my friends is a fate worse than death.”
“None of your friends are dead, you fool!” screamed an enraged Xavier. “Our code of conduct wouldn’t allow the senseless termination of life. Even in their altered condition, your teammates remain alive and sentient, completely able to think and feel. The same, however, cannot be said about the stunned Cockatrice that you murdered when your commander was captured. As a matter of fact, the only specimen ever killed on this playing field has been poor Vyger. Although I suspect you never gave the matter much thought when you burned my friend to death in your rage.”
Sergeant Magnum started to turn as white as a ghost as he began to realize the implications of his previous actions. Earlier, he was under the assumption that this hunter was merely a madman bent on destruction. Now, however, he began to feel guilty for blindly snuffing a life form that he simply didn’t understand or respect. “I apologize for destroying your friend, Xavier, but I was certain he’d just killed my commanding officer by transforming her into a lifeless stone statue. I couldn’t take the chance that he’d kill any more of my teammates.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” replied Xavier. “Once your friends help to transport us back to our home planet, Valeria, they will be returned to flesh to live out the rest of their lives.”
“Who’s being naïve now?” asked Sergeant Magnum. “What kind of lives are these people supposed to lead on a foreign planet, away from their families and friends? When, exactly, did your species decide that humans were meant to serve you? A minute of freedom is far more precious than a life of servitude. If my friends are released from their isolated captivity, your species will surely force them to serve the Nil Corporation as blindly as you seem to. Otherwise, why has this all been kept so secret? I’m certain the Nil Corporation’s motives are far more sinister than you seem to believe. Why don’t you use that powerful sense of perception to evaluate your precious Nil Corporation, and its diabolical plans for us humans?”
Stammering for a moment as he studied the human standing before him, Xavier considered the motivations of his superiors for a moment. Suddenly, a painful jolt pulsed through his brain, triggering a condition long thought to be dormant. Dropping to his knees, the confused agent began to clutch his throbbing head with his free hand, moaning in agony.
“Looks like your master is yanking your chain, Xavier,” replied a smug Sergeant Magnum.
“SHUT UP!” screamed Xavier as he rolled around on the ground. Still unable to ask the difficult questions needing answers, the stricken agent felt a profound sense of waste as he analyzed his situation. ‘Maybe this human is correct,’ thought Xavier. ‘Has this life been nothing but a lie all along?’
As Xavier struggled within his own mind, Sergeant Magnum saw a perfect chance to escape. Hobbling as quickly as he could, he struggled to flee from this alien, this puppet of the Nil Corporation so dutifully served. ‘Only a few more yards, and I’ll be free,’ thought Magnum as he struggled relentlessly.
All of a sudden, a deafening shot rang out, shattering the silence.
Hundreds of birds flew out of hiding from every direction as the ear-piercing
shockwave echoed off of the distant foothills.
“Do you hear that?” asked Niko anxiously. As she turned towards the loud commotion in the distance, her long, blonde hair swirled around her demure face, temporarily cloaking her visible fear.
“Yes,” replied Lieutenant Godiva gravely, “I’m afraid I do. My buddy, Sergeant Magnum, is down there, and I’m worried about his safety right now.” Trying to remain focused on the task at hand, Lieutenant Godiva choked back her tears. Sergeant Magnum wouldn’t want her crying over him, he was far too proud for that. Besides, hope was an emotion that Lieutenant Godiva could scarcely afford to lose.
Pressing onward reluctantly, the adventuring pair soon reached their destination. Analyzing the structural stability of the cave for a moment, Lieutenant Godiva grinned while studying the readings on her display. As Lieutenant Godiva guided her crystalline friend through the giant mouth of the cave, she shared the results of the scientific scan with her partner. "Iron and lead,” said the curvaceous leader. “As solid as can be. I only hope it’s remote enough not to be discovered by anyone else.”
Niko torched a flare as the ambient light faded around them. The scent of sulfur filled the enclosure as Lieutenant Godiva searched for a suitable location for her helpless friend. “Well,” said Niko thoughtfully, “we could always block the entrance to the cave when we leave. That way nobody will accidentally stumble upon her in here.” Already, Godiva had discovered a level and stable place for the rigid statue of Lady Petula, so she began to lower her friend’s prone figure onto the rocky ledge. Turning her ever so carefully, the statue made contact with the stony shelf, then teetered in place before finally stilling. “She’s so beautiful,” said Niko as she studied the glowing statue, now sitting in front of them.
“She is,” said Lieutenant Godiva, without any trace of doubt. Turning to face her stiffened friend, she stared in awe at the statue of her teammate. “I promise you, Lady Petula, that this cave will not be your tomb. As soon as I find a method for restoring you, I will return to save you.”
A chill began to cool the thin air around them, so they both decided to make camp inside the cave until dawn. Instead of building a roaring wood fire, the team decided to ignite a small pile of stones using Niko’s phaser. Within a few moments, the tan stones began to glow red hot, cutting the nippy evening air.
After they both ate a meager supper, Niko tried to lie down and get some much needed rest while Lieutenant Godiva stood watch just inside the mouth of the cave. The small fire inside was serving its purpose quite well, warming them effectively, while not revealing their location to wanderers passing through.
At about 4 o’clock in the morning, a fine mist began to fill the entrance of the cave. Shocked by the glowing apparition, Lieutenant Godiva readied her weapon anxiously. Quickly running back inside the cave, she immediately realized that the small fire wasn’t producing the vapor now filling the enclosure. Tapping Niko urgently awake, they both studied the gray smoke as it began to slowly form a decidedly feminine shape. The glowing ghost rotated around both Lieutenant Godiva and Niko, then approached the still figure of Lady Petula.
Suddenly, Godiva could hear a soothing voice echoing within her mind. “Poor child,” stated the apparition as it hovered above the chilly statue. “She wishes she could thank both of you for protecting her.”
“Wow!” shouted Niko. “Did you hear that, too?” Lieutenant Godiva nodded as she grabbed her scanner.
“Don’t bother trying to scan me,” said the voice within their minds. “I’m afraid I no longer possess a body to analyze.”
“Can you feel Lady Petula’s presence?” asked Lieutenant Godiva.
“Oh, yes! Her life force is very strong. That’s probably why the Nil Corporation is so interested in her.” Spinning gracefully, the hazy woman floated forward until she again hovered in front of the weary team. Even within the dark confines of the cave, the glowing face of a beautiful woman could be seen through the bright cloud. Smiling ever so gently, she looked deep within Lieutenant Godiva’s blue eyes. “You must be Carrie Bliss.”
“Yes, I am,” replied Godiva, unable to tear her gaze away from the gentle spirit.
Likewise, the specter studied Niko thoroughly, saying in a tender tone, “And you are Jessie Anders, here to rescue your precious sister, Rebecca.”
“That is true,” said Niko cautiously. “But how did you know all that?”
“I possess knowledge beyond that of mortal men and women,” stated the vision sorrowfully. “Perhaps I should introduce myself properly. My name is Lillian McAlistar.” Lieutenant Godiva and Niko both watched intensely as the ghostly woman continued.
“At one time, I was a flesh and blood human, just like both of you. During my short lifetime, I had managed to make quite a few scientific discoveries, which I then patented and developed with one of my colleagues. We branched out and formed a corporation called McAlistar/Davis and soon prospered, producing new medical technologies designed to save lives. For two decades, we built upon our noble ideals and were incredibly successful, until I suddenly fell gravely ill. After being told I had only two months left to live, I set out on a quest to discover a way of preserving my Earthly body until a cure for my condition could be found. That is when I discovered a process called molecular morphology. Stated simply, it is a method of rearranging the structure of living tissue on a molecular level, strengthening the delicate protein strands using a durable mineral, thereby allowing a method of stasis that allows more stability than cryogenics, without all the costly maintenance. We were still in the testing stage of development when my life was brutally cut short. My business partner, Stephen Davis, and his henchmen gunned me down before I could be put into stasis so he could claim my percentage of McAlistar/Davis. With my half of the company under his wing, Davis then set out to build a massive media conglomerate.”
“The Nil Corporation,” said Lieutenant Godiva gravely.
“That’s right,” replied the glowing woman. “All of the intricate technologies I had so carefully nurtured he brandished like a weapon, until he’d snuffed out all competition. Developing a global network of holograph stations, he now possessed the power to shape opinions throughout the world. His next goal was to build a mining colony on Io, a small moon orbiting Jupiter. That is when his blind ambition and greed truly doomed all humankind. Lying dormant on the surface of Io was an alien spaceship that had crashed there many years ago.”
“The Valerians?” asked Niko softly.
“That is correct. The Valerians completely wiped out the small colony on Io, then journeyed to Earth using the colonist’s own vessel. Seizing control of the Nil Corporation from Davis, they managed to manipulate all of the Nil Corporation’s technological discoveries, including my concept of molecular morphology. Soon, they had developed a way of extracting energy from those held within molecular stasis, thus enabling their mission to return to Valeria. Now, their plan has almost reached fruition, and the harvesting of human life has begun.”
“And we are merely the first wave of victims?” asked Lieutenant Godiva.
“I am afraid so,” replied the ghost of Lillian McAlistar.
“But why us?” asked Niko defensively. “Why would they create a game like Pure Adrenaline just to trap us?”
“For two reasons. First, they need powerful psychic minds to fuel the elemental generators. By preparing a contest such as this, they are able to selectively choose those whom they believe to possess the kind of mental power they require. And secondly, they need a ruse that seems harmless enough to the general public. You have to understand, billions of people out there have no idea that an alien species is controlling the media. By creating a media extravaganza, the Valerians can further manipulate the unsuspecting public into believing their lives are safe. Effectively entertaining them to death, in a manner of speaking. Once the first wave is harvested and sent to Valeria, then more spacecraft will return to finish the job. Emperor Titus is a ruthless dictator, and he has no problem using mind control over his subjugates. If he can control an entire subspecies to fight his wars, he will effectively become one of the most powerful leaders in the known universe.”
“Mind control?” asked Lieutenant Godiva.
“Yes. Unfortunately, the process of molecular morphology leaves the suspended life form extremely susceptible to brainwashing. Since my tests were left incomplete, I am afraid I am unable to provide thorough scientific reasons for this phenomenon. However, during the early trials, I found that even the simplest suggestion would yield amazing results, even by hypnotic standards. This is merely speculation, but I believe once put into molecular stasis, the synapses in the brain are effectively switched on, thereby reaching the core of a subject’s subconscious. My trials were under a controlled environment, so you’ll have to imagine how an unwilling subject must be feeling as he or she relives the moment of capture over and over, fear increasing the tension within the mind of the victim. If Emperor Titus enters someone’s mind during this heightened state of anxiety and offers himself as a savior, as a way out, then it is easy to see how mind control can be accomplished.”
“So, what can we do to stop them from enslaving the whole human race?” asked Lieutenant Godiva, as she looked up from her computer.
“The only way possible is for both of you to become victims yourselves.”
In unison, both girls shouted, “What?”
“Let me explain. As you now know, this competition is a Catch 22 situation. You have been instructed to locate a secret compound here within the battle area, so that is exactly what you have been doing thus far. Your foe, however, does not want anyone to actually find their hidden elemental generators, so they aren’t even located on this island. I think it’s safe to assume the generators are not far from here, but the precise coordinates are unknown at this time. This whole contest is a wild goose hunt for a compound that, in reality, doesn’t exist within Pure Adrenaline. Likewise, leaving this island to search for the Valerian stronghold is not an option, because it would reveal to your enemy just how much you know about their operation. Besides, where would you begin searching, if you were able to leave this island undetected?”
“I see your point,” said Lieutenant Godiva as she scratched her head. “So, if we turn ourselves into statues, they’ll think we were merely captured like the rest of the combatants.”
“Exactly. If you transform into statues, then the enemy will simply assume you have been acquired just like the others, and will transport you to the elemental generators according to their standard procedures.”
“How will we be able to reanimate ourselves once we’ve been transformed?” asked Niko anxiously. Her scowling brow revealed a hidden fear she’d always held deep inside.
“Two weeks ago, I instructed my lifelong assistant, Rochelle, to plant the latest versions of both petrifying and softening agents deep within this very cave, as a contingency plan for this dilemma. These canisters look just like normal canteens, but I assure you, they don’t contain mere water. The blue container will be filled with freezing compound, while the red one will contain restoring solution.”
“Restoring solution?” asked Lieutenant Godiva excitedly. “Can we use it to restore Lady Petula?”
“I wish it could be used that way,” offered Lillian. “Unfortunately, the softening agent in this cave has to be ingested orally in order to work its magic. Lady Petula, and all the others that have been captured, will need a different kind of remedy to return to flesh. Since Milla Rivera’s entire body has already been transformed into solid diamond, the only treatment that will save her is a curing bath.”
“But, WHO will restore US after we’ve been frozen into statues?” asked a visibly shaken Niko.
Turning to face the frightened Niko, the wispy ghost of Lillian McAlistar looked woefully into Niko’s pulsing eyes, sensing the fear radiating from the delicate woman. “I can only imagine what must be going through your mind right now, Jessie. After all that you have been through, I can appreciate your apprehension regarding this plan. You’ve only just met me, so I certainly understand why you may be doubting my intentions.”
Stammering for a brief moment, Niko cradled her knees tightly as she gently rocked back and forth. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Lillian,” said the tender woman quietly. “It’s just… I… don’t think… I can.”
“What’s the matter, Niko?” asked Lieutenant Godiva.
“For as long as I can remember,” said Niko timidly, “I’ve always been absolutely terrified by tight, confining spaces. Thankfully, this cave is somewhat large, or else I’d be clawing at the walls right now,” she laughed awkwardly, trying to lighten her tense demeanor. “Once, in grade school, these terrible kids shoved me into my own locker and locked me inside. I spent hours trapped within my locker, pounding on that metal door until my tiny fists started to bleed. That’s when I truly realized I had a problem with confinement. Now, I can’t even keep my clothes in a closet anymore, because I always imagine the doors closing behind me, leaving me trapped and alone.” Steadying her straining nerves, she added, “I just don’t think I can handle being trapped within my own body, completely unable to move or breathe.” Tremors of panic vibrated up and down her spine as she imagined herself completely trapped.
Lieutenant Godiva somberly hugged poor Niko consolingly. Tightening her grip in an effort to calm her new teammate’s convulsing muscles, Godiva looked deep into Niko’s damp eyes. “You know,” said Lieutenant Godiva warmly, “I think you must be the bravest person I’ve ever met. I had no idea you suffered from such a dreadful phobia. Yet, despite your crippling fear, you still journeyed into this perilous wilderness to save your sister, knowing full well what happened to her could also happen to you.”
Sobbing uncontrollably, Niko said in a whimper, “What choice did I have? I couldn’t let them steal my sister from me. All our lives we’ve been protecting each other, and I simply couldn’t live with myself if I stood by and did nothing to save her.” Wiping away her streaming tears, she continued. “I know she’s alive somehow; I can feel it in my heart. That’s kept me going so far. If I get caught myself, then at least I tried to save her, even if I suffer tremendously. But I always thought, at least it would be quick and then peaceful nothingness. Now, I realize I’m going to feel everything in that statue state, and I’m scared to death.”
“Your fears are justified, Jessie,” echoed Lillian as she hovered closer to the distraught woman. “Every instinct you possess is telling you to run, but fleeing won’t save your sister, I’m afraid. In order to breach the tight security surrounding the Nil Corporation’s elemental generators, we need to get both of you inside without being discovered. I’ve studied this situation from every angle, and I can think of no other way to get you in undetected. Unfortunately, you will remain sentient while you are frozen, but at least deep down you can take comfort in the fact that you will be fully restored within twenty-four hours. Then, once fully restored, you’ll truly be in a position to save your sister from a lifetime of slavery at the hands of Emperor Titus.”
“And I’ll be right by your side,” offered Lieutenant Godiva reassuringly.
“It’s only temporary,” said Niko quietly as she slowly began to feel more determined to overcome her blackest nightmare. “Will it hurt?” she asked reluctantly.
“Actually, the process itself is not painful at all. The nerves within your body will register a tightening sensation as the protein strands start to bond with the hardening agent, and your skin will begin to feel abnormally cold as it locks into position. However, you’ll already have the softening potion coursing through your veins, so you’ll have the antidote in your system by the time you begin to feel lethargic and stiff. Once the hardening agent has slowed your metabolic functions, it will take the softening agent several hours to travel through your system. After the softening agent reaches your heart, it will pulse through your bloodstream with greater efficiency thus returning your protein strands back to their original state. As you begin to thaw, so to speak, you will feel a warm sensation in your abdomen that will spread through your extremities. Within moments, you’ll be completely returned to your normal, flexible self.” The ghost silently studied the frightened woman’s resolve for a moment, and seemed satisfied with Niko’s newfound fortitude.
“If it helps, Niko, I’m more than a little scared myself right now. At this point, however, I don’t see any other choice. At least this way, we’re gonna catch them with their defenses down. This is our best chance to win.”
Rising to her feet slowly, Niko suddenly felt alive with purpose, despite her crippling phobia. “Alright,” she said calmly. “To save my sister, I’ll do it!”
“Okay!” shouted Lieutenant Godiva, as she hugged Niko tighter than she probably should have. “I knew you’d find the strength somehow!” Turning to the departed Lillian McAlistar, she said proudly, “Show me where to find the canisters, Lillian. Then we’ll show that miserable Emperor Titus who’s boss!”
Gliding effortlessly through the cave, Lillian quickly guided the bold Lieutenant Godiva to the location of the powerful transformation agents that they’d need to fool the Valerians. Also packed with the mysterious transformation potions was a small data disc. “On this disc,” instructed the kindly ghost, “you will find all of the information about the elemental generators that has been discovered, including a mission scenario, a list of security posts and a detailed map of the compound.” Taking a moment to examine the meticulous documents, Lieutenant Godiva studied relentlessly in preparation. After all, she knew the Nil Corporation would likely seize her possessions once captured.
‘Looks like I’m going to need all of my skills to beat them,’ thought Lieutenant Godiva somberly. Wishing she possessed photographic memory, Godiva tried desperately to memorize as much information as possible.
Sensing the turmoil radiating from the attractive field operator, Lillian swiftly attempted to ease Godiva’s troubled mind. “I realize how much data is contained on that disc, and I know you won’t be able to put all of it to memory. Let me assure you, I will be there to guide you once you reanimate. I simply want you to be familiar with that environment before you find yourself inside.” Shifting her intense eyes from the small computer, Lieutenant Godiva looked into the ghost’s haunting eyes for a moment. “When you return from your stony slumber, I will instruct you telepathically, much like I am right now. I assure you that I will be there for both of you.”
Breathing a noticeable sigh of relief, Lieutenant Godiva asked the helpful apparition, “Should I delete everything from my computer now, or should I simply stash it somewhere before I transform myself into a statue?”
“I would recommend leaving your computer behind, in this cave, before you leave. You can always use Commander Henderson’s discarded computer to track your progress as you travel. We simply cannot allow the Nil Corporation to discover your extensive knowledge of their organization, yet we must not discard it, since we may need your computer to provide evidence of their misconduct at a later time.” Nodding her approval, Lieutenant Godiva swiftly closed her small machine and tucked it away in the same location where the potions were discovered.
Heading back to the waiting Niko, they all studied the contents of the canteens for a moment as Lillian explained how to use them. “In the red container, you’ll find a thick orange fluid that is intended to be taken internally, just like cough medicine. As you know, this is my special softening agent. If you take one tablespoon ten minutes before ingesting petrifying solution, you will be frozen just long enough for you to be discovered and transported to the Nil Corporation’s elemental generators. After ten minutes have elapsed, you’ll need to take one tablespoon of the hardening solution orally. The liquid is thinner than the softening agent, and it glows fluorescent green. Once the hardening agent works through your bloodstream, your flesh will solidify, transforming into fine, white marble. If you take these potions in the wrong order, you’ll find yourself frozen for a couple of days, instead of the anticipated twenty-four hours, so make sure you take the soften before the harden, okay?”
“Got it! First soften, wait ten minutes, then harden,” replied Lieutenant Godiva meticulously. “Now, how can we ensure that the cleaning crew will find us, once we are frozen into statues?”
“I’ve given the matter much thought, and I think the best place to be found will be at the outskirts of the thorn fields just north of here. The field itself contains thousands of thorns laced with the exact chemical that you’ll be using to transform into decoy statues. An unsuspecting traveler, once pierced by a tainted thorn, will turn into solid stone. The Nil Corporation checks this trap on a regular schedule, so I’m certain you will be spotted quickly,” said the beautiful ghost as she helped Lieutenant Godiva locate the thorn field on her new organizer.
“How should I pose?” asked Niko wearily.
“As long as you look naturally surprised and confused, you’ll easily be able to fool the Nil Corporation. Also, I think it would be a good idea to slice up your clothes slightly, in order to appear as if you've been struggling with the sharp thorns.”
Reaching into her bag of tricks, Lieutenant Godiva quickly produced Lady Petula’s sword. “Turn around, Niko, and I’ll scar up your clothes a bit,” said Godiva as she readied the razor-sharp blade. Making short tears along Niko’s short, black skirt and blouse, she swiftly worked around Niko’s tight costume, even scoring the black pumps on the gorgeous blonde’s tiny feet. Likewise, Niko returned the favor, slicing small gashes into Lieutenant Godiva’s meager silver costume.
Outside the cave, the sun began to slowly rise above the horizon. As the two ladies prepared to depart, they could see the ghost of Lillian McAlistar beginning to fade. “Remember to stay mentally tough, ladies,” whispered the vanishing apparition. “I’ll do everything in my power to protect you, but Emperor Titus may try to break your defenses. Don’t let him fool you into believing his lies. Believe in yourselves, and you won’t fail, no matter what happens.”
“Understood, ma’am,” said Niko courageously. Already, she’d begun to feel empowered, like she could take on any challenge. ‘I will conquer my fear, Lillian,’ thought the brave lady as she waved goodbye.
“Thank you, Lillian!” shouted Lieutenant Godiva gratefully as she proudly
saluted the kindly ghost. As the last trace of Lillian faded away,
both ladies urgently departed the shelter of the cave with renewed determination.
Firing a phaser shot above the entrance of the cave, Niko guided the red
beam across the stony surface until a large pile of stones completely blocked
the only entrance to the cave, effectively sealing Lady Petula and Lieutenant
Godiva’s computer inside. Once Petula’s safety was finally ensured,
they both trekked north, in search of the mysterious thorn field.
To be continued...
On to Part Six