As they twisted through the expansive underground complex, the foreman smiled as he watched the nervous boy walking. A scraggly tuft of brown hair hung over his left eye, and his head slumped from side to side as he paced down the hall. Bringing his witness to a halt in front of an elevator door, he handed the backpack to the twitching boy, tucking it under his arm. “Don’t worry, kid. I’m sure Scientist Turner will like you. You both have similar interests.” As the heavy door slid open, he led Byron through the threshold, then punched the top button on the console.
In a matter of moments, the door opened after reaching the top floor. Standing just outside was an armed security agent, who then began to pat down the new arrivals. “Okay,” barked the militant duty officer, “you two are clean. Scientist Turner will see you now. Room 1001, down the hall and to the right.”
The foreman nodded to his colleague before guiding the antsy Byron down the opulent hallway. Turning his pale face towards the ceiling, the young boy let out a gasp as he spotted an immense window embedded within the ocean floor. Sting rays, sharks and shimmering fish of every variety pushed through the water with delicate grace right above the amazed boy’s eyes. The burly foreman also paused a moment to admire the underwater ballet before he nudged the distracted boy in the arm. “Come on,” he urged, “we don’t want to leave him waiting.”
Quickly picking up their pace, they rounded the corner until they faced a pair of ornate mahogany doors, etched with uncanny artistic skill. Boldly, the foreman rapped on one of the stunning doors, then waited for them to swing open.
“Come in,” boomed a voice from inside. Behind a sprawling desk sat a gray-haired man with a thin mustache. With his fingers interlocked on the wood tabletop, he seemed to exude a brash confidence, like a political advisor working on a winning campaign. He looked at the young man intently for a moment, his haunting gray eyes studying the eager witness, almost as if he could see right through him. Turning to the brawny foreman, the charismatic leader said warmly, “It’s good to see you again, Warren.”
“Likewise, sir!” saluted the foreman with a grin. Gently, he nudged the boy next to him closer to the desk. “This is the witness you asked me to deliver. His name is Byron.”
Stammering slightly, the young man politely said, “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.” Bowing his head respectfully, he held out the grubby duffel in his quivering hands. “I found this bag in the thorn fields, sir. It was hanging off of a captured contestant’s shoulder.” Placing the worn backpack on the polished desk, he delicately slid his discovery over to the powerful Mr. Turner. Wasting no time, the enigmatic science officer pulled out two strange bottles, one red and one blue. After steadily twisting off each cap, he closed his eyes then sniffed the contents of the unknown containers. Suddenly, his eyelids snapped open, his face displaying a brief moment of distress and comprehension.
Turning to Byron, he smiled politely, quickly stifling his visible alarm. “You are a good man to bring this to me, Byron. These canisters will need to be tested by the science division, but if they contain what I believe they do, this information will undoubtedly be of some assistance.” Slowly, the slim man rose from his plush chair. Then he walked around the enormous desk, eventually stopping right in front of the awestruck youngster. “I am curious, what will this impressive data cost me?”
Growing more confident, Byron looked the imposing leader directly in the eye, saying in a firm tone, “All I want in exchange for this evidence is a job with the Nil Corporation.”
Quickly, the foreman stepped in to assist. “He wants to assist us with the capturing of female specimens, sir,” said Warren respectfully. Turner turned away for a moment, tapping his chin with his index finger.
“You know, Byron, you remind me of myself when I was younger,” said the charming scientist as he again faced the beaming young lad. “I know we’ve only just met, but considering the importance of your discovery, I’m inclined to offer you a position with us.” Byron smiled brightly at the dapper leader as he continued. “I must tell you, I’m most impressed with your resourcefulness. I’m going to need someone with your kind of initiative to handle the final phase of this competition. In four hours, an ocean liner will be delivering the largest group of contestants ever assembled to date, nearly five hundred beautiful women in total. With the enormous success of Pure Adrenaline, we’ve been able to find many aspiring actresses and models searching for the kind of global exposure our show can provide. Unfortunately for them, they won’t be getting past Orientation, I’m afraid. That’s where you’ll come in, Byron, and I assure you, this won’t be an easy task.” Briefly, the intrepid scientist studied the young man’s resolve for a moment. Already, Byron’s face was lit up like an airport runway, anxiously anticipating every word. “Your job will be to capture each and every arriving contestant into pure platinum. The other workers in Orientation will not be aware of your duties, so you will answer only to me. Already, a sprawling transport device has been built within the Orientation workroom, so you’ll be spending the next few days freezing everyone in sight, then shipping them off to us. So, what do you think, Byron? Does this sound like a job you can accomplish?”
Without any hesitation, Byron urgently replied, “Yes. Without a doubt, sir. I’m your man.”
Warmly, the exuberant man offered his hand for a handshake. With sweaty palms, Byron shook his manicured hand, gripping his new boss’ extended arm excitedly. “Welcome aboard, Byron! Your title shall be Director of Acquisitions.” Discretely drying his damp hand with a handkerchief, Turner continued. “Now, you realize we’ll need you to work speedily on each contestant, in order to meet our deadline. Also, you will be required to maintain absolute secrecy regarding your new job responsibilities.”
Saluting proudly, Byron replied adoringly, “I understand, sir. I won’t let you down!”
Pressing a button on his communications unit, Scientist Turner summoned one of his assistants into the room. “Lead this young man over to Orientation. He’ll be starting immediately.” Waving to Byron as he exited, Turner said in a distinguished tone, “Good luck, Byron!”
With one task complete, Turner addressed his dutiful foreman. “What do we know about the contestant carrying these unauthorized potions?”
“Well, her name is Pricilla,” replied Warren. “I believe she was delivered to the preparation room a few hours ago with all the others.”
“Understood,” barked the commanding gentleman. Handing the duffel bag to the attentive foreman, he said, “Take this down to analysis for me. I want them to study these unknown solutions before I consider my next action.”
“Yes, sir!” saluted Warren before spinning around and heading out of the plush office.
As the pale leader returned to the chair behind his desk, he dialed up a number on his speakerphone. “Dr. Alcott, tell me where we stand on Project Genesis.”
A crackling voice replied, “We’re almost there, Mr. Turner. We simply need to fill in the final gaps in the genetic code before impregnation can begin.” In the background, Scientist Turner could hear frantic voices emanating from the tiny speaker.
“You have twelve hours, Dr. Alcott!” said the impatient leader harshly
before abruptly ending transmission. As he leaned back in his swiveling
chair, he thought to himself fervently, ‘A few more days on this miserable
rock, and then we’ll finally be able to go back home.’
Beneath her descending position, a series of rotating nets quickly ensnared the helpless victim, preventing her from plummeting to her doom. Face down on the simple, fabric platform, Godiva could feel herself slowly being lowered into a mysterious room filled with loud activity. As the vertical carousel spun the sculpture to the ground, she found herself being tipped back into an upright position. Now perched on a wheeled dolly, she could hear the rolling sound of metal casters against a concrete floor. Feeling a pair of warm hands on her alabaster back, she soon felt herself being pushed into a large room.
‘There you are!’ projected Niko to her adorable ally. From her distant position, she could barely see Lieutenant Godiva being wheeled delicately into the preparation room.
Seeing hundreds of trapped competitors around her, Lieutenant Godiva reached out to Niko using her thoughts. ‘Yeah, looks like the gang’s all here,’ she snickered, trying to calm her jumpiness with humor. ‘That’s one scary ride they’ve got up there!’
‘I know,’ replied Niko consolingly. ‘I thought I’d never stop falling.’
Methodically, twenty to thirty employees worked around the massive room, removing all articles and possessions from the unmoving bodies of the transformed competitors. Tucking every object away into storage boxes, they made certain to label everything meticulously before moving on to the next waiting frozen victim. Suddenly, Lieutenant Godiva could feel a warm hand caressing her polished buttocks. A loud voice from behind called out to a colleague a few feet away. “Look at this lovely creature! Incredible! You know, sometimes I simply love my job!”
Turning to his buddy abruptly, the man replied harshly, “Stop screwing around, man! Box up her things and move on!” Dejectedly, the stranger behind Godiva walked around her glowing body, eventually facing the hardened curves of her priceless face. Reaching around her firm neck, he pulled off the single object that remained on her nude body, the identification necklace provided by the Nil Corporation.
As he tossed the metal tag into a tiny box, he whispered into the folds of her petrified ear, “Sorry about that, darling. I guess some people simply can’t appreciate a beautiful girl such as yourself.” Gently, he gave her a wet peck on the cheek, then moved on to the next helpless maiden.
‘Christ, I get more action now as a statue than I ever did as a living, breathing girl,’ mused Lieutenant Godiva to her stony companion.
‘Tell me about it,’ replied Niko in a jovial manner. ‘I don’t think these guys get out much.’
Suddenly, Lieutenant Godiva could feel another callused pair of hands on her unyielding body. As she felt herself slowly being pushed into another room, she shuddered inside as she worried about what horrors she’d be forced to experience next.
Within a sprawling control room, Lieutenant Godiva could see numerous rows of trapped competitors, all stationed within narrow enclosures. On top of each fossilized head was a slim helmet that housed several bulky wires. These wires ran down the back of each victim’s neck, eventually connecting to the pedestal under their feet. In the center of the room loomed a massive cylinder that ran from the floor to the ceiling, at least three stories in height. Inside this enormous container, Lieutenant Godiva could see a flickering mass of blue energy radiating from within.
The mammoth scale of the equipment, and the shear number of stiffened humans around her absolutely terrified the naked girl as she felt herself being slowly halted in front of an empty stall. This would be her enclosure, and she knew it as she felt herself being lifted off of her wheeled platform. As her feet clanked down onto her waiting pedestal, she could feel a warm buzzing sensation welling up from under her, tickling her stony toes. The worker reached around behind her prone form, producing a wired helmet in his rough hands. Stepping into the enclosure for a moment, he placed the headpiece carefully onto her skull, making certain the contact points were positioned in the correct locations on her glistening head.
As he stepped back out of the tight confines of the narrow stall, he flipped a small switch at the base of the platform. The instant she felt herself jacked in, Lieutenant Godiva could feel a rush of electricity flowing through her. Every sensation she’d ever experienced in her short lifetime began to pound relentlessly through her brain, creating a numbing cacophony of activity within her petrified body. All at once, she could feel her skin growing as cold as ice, yet her hardened curves also burned, like she’d been dipped into flaming lava. Floating images filled her brain as she pulsed in and out of awareness. The first time she scraped her knee, her first awkward kiss with a boy, her humbling loss during a spelling bee, every intense instant of consciousness vibrated inside of her like a ball inside a whistle. Strange voices haunted her; memories of loved ones long since departed. Ecstatic pleasures and immense pains rolled over her motionless body as she stood within her tortured prison, completely unable to cry or laugh or beg for mercy. On the outside, she appeared like any other serene sculpture, but on the inside, she found herself racked with deep remorse and joy, all of the conflicting emotions merging into one boiling unavoidable circumstance.
Over several hours, dozens of other combatants were likewise connected to their own private elemental generators. Lieutenant Godiva remained absolutely oblivious to all outside stimuli, yet her swirling thoughts still lingered on her teammate, Niko. Sifting through the random feelings stirred by the process draining her of energy, she struggled to remain calm for the benefit of her friend as the insane tide of emotions plunged her deeper into a nightmare she couldn’t wake up to avoid.
As Niko felt herself being lowered onto a buzzing platform, she could
only perceive an overwhelming sense of distress emanating from her nearby
friend. ‘If only she could hear me,’ thought Niko worriedly as a
wired cap was placed on her head. As her own switch became abruptly
activated, she quickly understood why her partner was unable to be reached.
Yet through all the static images and horrifying memories dredged up by
the sadistic crown, a lone thought swirled through her tortured mind.
‘I’d go through Hell itself to save you, sister,’ thought Niko persistently
as she focused all of her fluctuating power on freeing her captive sibling.
Both Meg and Commander Kari reached out to the awestruck ladies, warmly offering polite handshakes. Still quite shaken by their terrifying experience with Plastique, the two girls slowly began to relax as they came to realize their recent danger was now over. “Where are my manners,” said the girl on the left, a striking brunette with tight, curly hair. Pointing to her petite companion, she said, “This is Lady Hydra.” As she spoke, the others could hear a trace of an accent, perhaps Russian.
“Pleased to meet all of you,” said the tiny blonde as she shyly kicked her left foot around in the dirt. Dressed in gleaming blue from head to toe, she batted her eyes seductively as she studied Sergeant Magnum, her savior.
Wasting no time, the brunette proceeded to introduce herself. “My name is Lieutenant Tatiana,” said the buxom lady before bowing respectfully. As she gently played with her ebony ringlets, the seductive woman tossed a gleaming smile to her new companions. “We’ve only been out here for a few hours, but unfortunately the rest of our team has already been captured. I’m certain we would have been next, if it hadn’t been for your timely intervention, Sergeant Magnum.”
Graciously, Sergeant Magnum said, “I assure you, it was my pleasure.” Pointing to the static mannequin in the distance, he asked delicately, “Is that your commander over there?”
“Yes,” sighed Lady Hydra remorsefully. “That’s Commander Marietta. That bitch, Plastique, somehow turned her into a lifeless department store dummy.” Throwing angry glances at the crystal statue on the hovercraft, the delicate blonde’s perky face began to frown as she mourned the loss of her faithful commander.
“Well,” offered Meg, “I don’t think she’ll be torturing anyone else anytime soon.” As she glanced up at the unmoving statue of Plastique, she suddenly proclaimed, “Hey, should we try to grab that hovercraft?”
Commander Kari looked at the meager ship for a moment, studying the potential capacity of the hovering vessel. Considering the fact that the slight ship didn’t plummet to the ground after Plastique’s sudden metamorphosis, Kari replied to her crafty officer, “Oh, most definitely, Meg. I think that ship will be able to serve our needs quite well.” The two adventurers wasted no time, quickly running up to the unstable hovercraft, now bouncing around without a pilot.
Meg reached into her backpack, producing a long length of rope. Tying a noose on one end, she spun it around over her head using impeccable skill. After about ten rotations, she launched the hangman’s knot at the ship, hoping it would catch along the bow end of the deck. On her first try, the toss was on target, yet the loop failed to grip anywhere along its path. As the limp rope fell to the grass, Meg relentlessly attempted again, using the same skilled technique as before. With a deliberate flick of the wrist, she again sent the lasso aloft. This time, it clung to a docking clamp. As Meg jerked the line forcefully, she let out a joyous holler as the loose knot began to clench snugly around the jutting metal bracket.
“Alright, Meg!” shouted her commander proudly. While Meg anchored the line from the ground, Commander Kari gripped the rope tightly, then began to climb up the secured line. Slowly and assuredly, Kari hugged the rope as she ascended, eventually reaching the deck. From the ground, she could hear the entire team screaming their approval. In one swift motion, the bold commander shoved the vinyl-clad diamond sculpture off the side of the hovercraft, sending the stiffened villain plummeting to the grassy soil underneath. With a muted thud, the heavy statue struck the ground, leaving a sizeable dent in the soft earth. Flipping a nearby switch, Commander Kari lowered a platform from the side of the vessel to the ground before lowering the throttle, finally stilling the rocking hovercraft.
Now hidden within the tall blades of grass sprawled a statue so rare that none of the explorers could begin to estimate its worth. Meg drooled as she analyzed the financial prospects awaiting her if she could deliver a sculpture this unique to an art broker. Abandoning the dangling rope, she reached down to lift the glowing visage, but she quickly discovered the sheer weight of the villainous masterpiece was far too great to be transported. ‘Drat,’ thought Meg as she sighed. ‘There’s no way to move her now.’ Spying a small laser gun in her possession, Meg wrestled the odd little weapon out of the sculpture’s waist holster, tucking the unusual device into her bag. Discretely, the shrewd woman then began to place tree branches over the prone figure, hoping to hide the precious monument until she could return. As Lieutenant Tatiana and Lady Hydra began to approach her position, Meg instantly halted her hasty chore. Subtly, the squirrelly lieutenant flipped open her computer so she could mark down the location of her hidden treasure on the terrain map. ‘Nobody will miss her,’ thought Meg with a smile as she snapped her computer shut.
Lieutenant Tatiana and Lady Hydra spent several painful moments studying their altered commander, hoping she could sense their adoration somehow. As Lady Hydra ran a quivering hand across the smooth and firm skin of Commander Marietta’s cherished face, she moaned inside at the loss of her dear friend. Despite their revulsion at seeing their ally rendered as a lifeless mannequin, both Tatiana and Hydra had to admit, their teammate did look absolutely stunning in her new format. Still, no mere object could replace the warmth and compassion now hidden within flesh-toned plastic. Unable to simply leave their helpless leader behind, they both reached down and lifted Marietta upright, steadily carrying her lightweight figure between them like a plank of wood. As the mourning pair approached the hovercraft, Commander Kari said remorsefully, “I’m terribly sorry, ladies. Unfortunately, this tiny craft has limited capacity and no storage below deck.”
With a dejected sigh, the regretful team lowered their unbending friend to the ground carefully, making certain not to damage the hollow sculpture their friend had become. Diligently, the two stunning women waved sympathetically to their helpless partner before returning to the awaiting hovercraft.
As Commander Kari began to lift Lieutenant Tatiana and Lady Hydra on board, Sergeant Magnum smiled at Meg as she stood next to him. “Your wrangling skills are amazing, Meg! Where did you learn to use a rope like that?”
With a wink, the seductive lass said, “My uncle owns a cattle ranch in Scotland, so I’d spend my summers working for him. By the age of twelve I could tie up a steer in a minute flat.”
“Ah, so you’re gorgeous and talented, huh?” offered Magnum playfully. “I bet a skill like that could really come in handy in the bedroom!”
With a mock pout on her dimpled face, Meg replied seductively, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” As she stepped onto the empty platform, she reached out an assisting hand to the injured sergeant, but he didn’t grasp it. Instead, he slumped to his knees unexpectedly, clutching his forehead in agony.
As the struggling sergeant moaned, he could feel the tortured thoughts of his teammate, Lieutenant Godiva. In an instant, he felt connected to the silver warrior in a way he never thought possible before. “Godiva!” screamed the stricken soldier in grief. “My God! What are they doing to you?”
Meg kneeled down beside Sergeant Magnum, a look of concerned fear creeping across her delicate facial features. “What’s wrong, Magnum? Come on, snap out of it!” Violently, she shook the panic-stricken sergeant, hoping to bring him out of his catatonic state. One part of Meg felt deep concern for Magnum’s sudden downfall, while another part of her became enraged by the thought of another woman reaching him with her intimate thoughts, fearful or otherwise. For several moments, the brave man wrestled with the horrifying images and sensations emanating from his distant ally, until his eyes started to regain their focus. Meg quickly halted her urgent pleading as he began to calm. Her shocked expression never faded as she lifted the wounded man to his feet.
“I can feel her,” whispered Sergeant Magnum as he regained his bearings. “I don’t know how, but I can feel her distress.” As he closed his eyes, he focused all of his remaining energy on locating the source of Lieutenant Godiva’s tortured thoughts. Like a committed shaman, Sergeant Magnum began to channel the mysterious powers pulsing through him, until he could trace the brave woman’s thoughts with excruciating clarity. Quickly, his eyelids snapped open as he pointed into the distance. In a hypnotic murmur, he said without any shred of doubt, “She’s over there. Beyond those distant hills we will find a deep underground tunnel. Stretching beneath the ocean floor lies a massive domed building. That steel structure houses the elemental generators.”
Meg hugged the raving Sergeant Magnum by the waist as she pulled him onto the waiting platform. Commander Kari immediately raised them up onto the ship, then helped Meg lift the limp body of Sergeant Magnum into the solitary deck chair. Slowly, the spent sergeant began to explain what he’d discovered about Pure Adrenaline. He described in detail what Peter Grimes had done to Lady Petula, as well as the revelations revealed by the wicked robot. The four ladies stood in absolute shock as they learned about Lieutenant Godiva, the Valerians and the elemental generators. For several tender moments, they each began to realize the immense danger looming around them, as well as the grim penalty awaiting them should they also find themselves captured.
Lieutenant Tatiana began to rage as she cursed the Nil Corporation. In a language none of them could decipher, she aggressively denounced the treacherous organization in her mother tongue, spitting spite from her lush lips like an obstinate camel. Eventually regaining her composure, she shouted angrily, “We can’t let this happen! We must fight for our future!”
As Commander Kari powered up the engines, she studied her brooding,
yet determined team. Following Sergeant Magnum’s visionary trajectory,
she guided the vessel in the direction of the underground tunnel.
Feeling sluggish after his exhaustive telepathic experience, Sergeant Magnum
began to drift off into sleep. Before surrendering to the sandman,
he somberly worried about his fallen teammates. ‘I won’t let them
destroy us,’ thought Magnum diligently.
To be continued...
On to Part Ten