Dumping over his ashtray, Eddie cradled his pounding head with his hands in exasperation. Clumsily, he scooped up the forty or fifty spilled cigarette butts with a piece of paper, cursing his newfound lack of coordination. Grabbing the one lit cigarette off of the floor, he inhaled a huge gulp of smoke before violently stamping the pungent tobacco out. The impending danger wasn’t weighing as heavily on his fortitude nearly as much as the dreadful anticipation did, and Eddie was beginning to welcome the idea of peaceful rest. Knowing full well that his executioner would most likely be greeting him with a smile rather than a frown, he recently found himself timidly flinching nearly every time a colleague would pass by him in the halls.
Barely able to concentrate on his extensive duties, Eddie decided to table his usual meticulous editing style, choosing instead to simply wing it. Besides, the number of contestants trudging through the battlefield was dwindling exponentially. Every day there seemed to be fewer and fewer participants to photograph, so his coverage, while thorough, was now limited to only about twenty or thirty active competitors. ‘Looks like this show’s going right down the toilet,’ thought Eddie as he spliced together a brief entrapment scene. ‘Who could’ve thought a game show would end up being my downfall,’ laughed the weary editor maniacally.
“I beg to differ, Eddie,” whispered a familiar voice within his mind. “I firmly believe this shall be your finest hour.”
“Lillian!” projected Eddie in excitement. “Don’t scare me like that!”
The kindly ghost quickly began to pass through the editing console as she slowly began to reclaim her delicate form. “Well, I am a ghost, Eddie. As you can imagine, I have very few cheap thrills left in this spirit state.”
Meekly, Eddie replied, “I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way, Lillian. You still seem so vibrant and seductive, it’s hard to picture you as a poltergeist.”
Smiling, Lillian whispered, “You are a charmer, aren’t you, Eddie?” Quickly poking her head through the solid wall behind him, she projected urgently, “We don’t have very much time to get you out of here, Eddie. Do you have access to any holograph video cameras?”
Reaching into a drawer beneath his console, Eddie produced a handheld camera in his pale hand. “Just this one. They asked me to fix it last week.”
Hovering right next to the battered camera, Lillian asked her mortal friend, “Does that device function properly?”
“Well, I don’t know if it could be called proper, but I’m confident it will work. After all, I did repair it myself,” added Eddie proudly. Quickly tearing through a nearby drawer, he grabbed a large roll of masking tape and several holograph discs, stuffing them all in his pocket.
Confused, Lillian asked, “What’s the tape for?”
Eddie replied with a laugh, “I’m going to need to tape the record button down.”
“Are you sure there isn’t a better camera we can use?” inquired the frustrated specter quizzically. In an instant, she began to pass through the many cabinets in search of another, more reliable contraption.
Eddie giggled as he watched his paranormal friend frantically investigating every storage locker in earnest. Quickly, he offered, “I’m afraid this is the only video recorder in my office, Lillian. Unfortunately, the planning committee normally handles the placement and maintenance of cameras. Since this poor guy fell nearly three stories, it was considered a lost cause.”
“I can see why,” exclaimed Lillian bitterly.
In an effort to put her mind at rest, Eddie projected, “Common, have a little faith in me, Lillian. I may not be the sharpest pair of scissors in the drawer, but I do know my electronic equipment!” Deliberately, he wrapped the stitched camera strap around his neck, proving beyond a doubt his conviction regarding the dented device.
“Alright,” whispered Lillian reluctantly. “I guess it will have to do.” Spinning around Eddie’s sitting location, she closed her eyes as she intensely focused her energy then reached out for Eddie’s arm. An odd tingling sensation began to well up within Eddie’s body as he looked on in pure surprise. Lifting his free arm to his face, he was astonished to see his hand becoming even paler then normal. Slowly, the dense tissue began to glow as the solid surface of his shaking arm began to become more transparent with each passing second. Suddenly, he looked up at the glass screen in front of his location and let out a gasp. Quickly, his entire body started to fade until he appeared to be completely invisible within the shimmering reflection. “Let’s see if they can find you now!” projected Lillian with a wicked smile.
In a timid expression, Eddie asked, “Jesus Christ! Am I dead?”
“No, Eddie,” offered Lillian consolingly. “I am currently cloaking you within my spirit. As long as we maintain this slight mystical contact, you will be able to share my abilities: invisibility, the capability to pass through walls and objects, even teleportation.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Eddie as he waved his hand straight through the steel editing table. “This is so cool!”
Lillian’s face began to grow distant as she thought about her untimely demise. In an aching tone, she offered, “At first I thought these powers were amazing as well. However, as the years go by, I often wish I could reclaim my physical body and become a part of the living world again. I would give anything to feel a gentle caress on my face, or to become ravenous with hunger. I sorely miss those pleasures of the flesh.”
Eddie turned to face the mournful ghost, saying sympathetically, “I’m so sorry, Lillian. Sometimes I don’t realize how insensitive I can be.” Reaching out an outstretched hand, he delicately stroked her precious face in sadness, fully wishing he could resurrect her himself. Immediately, Eddie began to understand the limitations of her powers. His wispy hand could only faintly perceive the slight effect of his touch, and he felt profound compassion as he realized suddenly that tender human contact was impossible in this altered state. Still, Lillian’s face slowly began to smile as she watched him gently trying to comfort her.
“Thanks, Eddie,” thought Lillian as he lowered his luminous arm in frustration. “I may not be able to feel your touch, but your compassion moves me more than you can imagine.” Without any further hesitation, Lillian instructed her daring companion, saying abruptly, “Time to go. Brace yourself, Eddie, we’re going down!”
Instantly, the tethered pair began to descend, plunging straight down through the concrete and tile flooring under their feet. Eddie began to scream as they picked up speed, plowing through each floor with immense velocity. As they swept through steel girders and insulation, Eddie asked frantically, “Where are you taking me?”
Lillian spun her head around to face her terrified companion, saying jovially, “Why? Would you rather be sitting at your desk right now?”
Not accustomed to being so out of control, Eddie stammered, “Very funny, Lillian! We both know you’re the one who got me mixed up in this mess in the first place.” With his heart nestled firmly in his throat, he could feel the twin sensations of panic and fascination simultaneously as he continued to plummet through the lofty domed complex.
Within seconds, they had dropped eight stories. As they approached the subbasement level, Lillian began to slow their gliding approach until they both came to a halt inside the mysterious preparation room. Stationed throughout the sprawling hall were sixty, perhaps seventy glittering statues, all shining like chrome goddesses. As Eddie began to regain his bearings, he asked haltingly, “Are all of these captured contestants? I don’t even recall seeing any of these participants in the Pure Adrenaline footage I’ve been editing.”
As Lillian studied the calm expression on one platinum beauty’s face, she projected to her ally, “You haven’t seen any of these women captured in competition because the Nil Corporation has altered the rules to suit their needs. Let me show you.” Immediately, Eddie could feel himself floating as they lifted into the air. Spinning around the intricate ductwork overhead, she led her compassionate friend to a long stretch of clear tubing embedded within the internal architecture. Slowing to a halt, she said softly, “We’ll wait here for a moment. Soon you will see just how cold and calculating these Valerians are.”
After pausing for about two minutes, Eddie could hear a loud whooshing sound emanating from the transparent tube. Before he could even guess what was happening, a platinum statue swept past them at blinding speeds, clanking against the sides as it traveled. On the nude statue’s face, Eddie could see a chilly sense of wonder cemented on the silver damsel’s rigid face. Immediately, Eddie’s throat became dry as he began to realize just what the Nil Corporation was doing to these poor women. “Christ,” projected Eddie wearily, “she never had a chance, did she?”
“You have no idea just how accurate that statement is,” whispered Lillian as she led her stunned friend through the surface of the dreadful chute. Quickly soaring upward along the angled drainpipe, they eventually emerged within a large photography studio.
Standing on the platform directly next to them was a lovely redhead wearing a skimpy black leotard. Something about the thoroughly attractive and flawlessly fit woman seemed familiar to Eddie. He wasn’t absolutely certain, but believed he had filmed her in a shampoo commercial a few years ago. Moving gracefully from one aspect into another, she seemed to be trying out her best poses, seeking approval from the grumpy cameraman. Before long, she flowed into a wonderful pose accentuating her flawless body. With her legs spread out at shoulder length, she shifted all of her weight to the balls of her feet, further sculpting her well-defined thigh muscles. Then she lifted both of her arms behind her head, linking her tiny fingers together just behind her upturned face. Finally, she arched her back slightly and pressed her shoulders forward just a bit, which truly caused her ample breasts to heave with seductive grace. As the cameraman howled his approval, she smiled brightly at him before gently coaxing her facial features into a delicate look of erotic calm. Turning her head to the right, she paused, waiting pensively for the howling photographer to snap his shot. Now posed with an aloof elegance, the radiant woman epitomized style and poise within her static countenance.
As Eddie spun around to study the rest of the brightly-lit room, he instantly saw another face he recognized. At first, he found it difficult to assess where he’d seen the strange young man holding the camera, until he recalled the thorn field footage edited recently. “Wait, I know him,” offered Eddie in astonishment. “He’s one of the contestants, isn’t he?”
Before Lillian could respond to his inquiry, a flash of white light discharged above the buxom model, still holding her flashy catalog pose. As the bright strobe faded, Eddie could see the young man smiling as he quickly began to approach the seductive woman stationed on the elevated dais. Oddly, the stunning lady never moved an inch from her spot. Instead she rigidly held the intended pose in perpetuity. Lillian frowned as she watched the scrubby boy swiftly fumbling with the contestant’s snug costume. Offering a belated answer, she said in disgust, “Oh, yeah. This one is a contestant named Byron. This scoundrel has been assisting the Nil Corporation since the cleaning crew discovered him. He’s the reason why you are in so much hot water right now.”
Eddie looked on in horror as the slight man began to aggressively manhandle the tantalizing woman. With her ebony outfit already slumped down to her ankles, the boy named Byron instantly lifted the contestant, grabbing her firmly at the waist and ruggedly flipping her so he could slap off her shoes and collect the costume bunched around her feet. Even as he placed her naked body back onto the multileveled platform, the contestant still appeared to be held within a deep trance, the poor girl remained utterly motionless. She even wobbled a bit before finally stilling, her once flexible body now remained as stiff as a board. Fortunately her stance was extremely stable, or else she would have certainly toppled due to her tiptoe posture. “Are you telling me this wicked brat was the one who almost ruined your plans?” asked Eddie in revulsion.
“Yes,” replied Lillian in vile anger. “This pathetic human revealed the discovery of my hidden potions to Scientist Turner. And now he’s working for them, helping to capture these innocent women.” As the depraved man stepped back from his stilled victim, he grinned before stabbing a button on his remote, triggering a series of lights stationed around the paralyzed model. Both Eddie and Lillian watched in revulsion as the insidious devices swept into action, instantly rendering anything within their path into unbending metal.
“What a sinister trap!” exclaimed Eddie in rage as the motionless girl’s arched toes became solidly affixed to the now shimmering platform glistening beneath her. Rolling up the delicate folds of skin along the surface of her feet, the flow of gleaming metal swiftly rendered each tiny line and vein in bold relief, creating deep shadows within the once soft creases. In a huff Eddie added, “This poor girl is a fashion model. She’s worked on this type of session hundreds of times. She would have never suspected that this simple publicity still would turn her into a lifeless statue!” Inside, he recalled his pleasant experience with this very woman in the past. Fondly, he remembered how proficient and pleasant she had been to work with. As the platinum transformation devices swiveled upwards, capturing her extended calves and tensed thighs, he cursed this maniacal excuse of an artist, shouting, “How could he violate her professional trust in such a villainous manner!”
Quickly, the horrendous lights spun further upwards, forcefully locking her lithe waist into unyielding platinum. As glowing reflections bounded throughout the room, Lillian projected to her aghast partner, “Never forget what you’ve seen here, Eddie. I want this one held accountable for his deplorable actions.” In an instant, the lovely redhead’s bountiful breasts surrendered to the shimmering wave of silver, instantly hardening her stiffened breasts into flawless globes of reflective metal, tipped by hardened knots where warm and tender nipples formerly protruded proudly. Lillian could only imagine the dreadful shock occurring within the poor girl’s hardening body as she stared at her changing form in remorse.
“I only wish we could save her somehow,” offered Eddie as his former model’s face began to alter with cold efficiency. Swiftly, her delicate facial features began to lock into place; the intensely erotic expression becoming a platinum monument to the allure of this once living woman, now brutally halted at the peak of her seductive powers. Within seconds, her flowing mane of flaming hair conceded to the dreadful transformation, forming long, chrome streamers that draped over her slender back, fusing to her trim shoulder blades immediately. Once the incorrigible process was complete, the converting lights swiftly dimmed then lowered, as they would remain until the next unwitting damsel was placed over the dormant devices once again.
Plunging another button on his keypad, Byron launched the converted statue down the tube, just another gullible victim ready to be converted into energy. Eddie raged inside as he watched the sick lad tossing the still warm costume into a recycling bin, surely to be used again later on another poor victim. Lillian woefully whispered to Eddie, “Already, this bastard child has converted three hundred thirty-two innocent women into statues. Just about one contestant every three or four minutes.”
Astounded, Eddie replied in horror, “Sweet mercy! I had no idea so many were being duped into becoming Valerian pawns.” This time Eddie tugged Lillian closer to the whirring video camera stationed nearby. Catching a glimpse through the viewfinder, he instantly realized the device was still set to record. Glancing down to his left, he spotted a large container full of labeled discs, each scrawled message merely stating specific times and dates rather than subject matter or contestants’ names. ‘He probably doesn’t even bother to find out their names,’ thought Eddie to himself in disgust.
Immediately, Byron strutted up to the locked door, calling out to the next anxious woman in line. “Please step right this way, ma’am. We’re ready to begin your session now.”
At last, Eddie couldn’t bear to watch this smug villain as he captured his next hapless victim. Turning to Lillian, he begged, “Please, I’m asking you, release your hold on me, Lillian. I cannot allow this to continue! Let me tear this depraved boy to pieces!”
Lillian smiled upon seeing her friend’s determined expression. Finding herself completely unable to allow another to suffer in this manner, she projected to her brave companion, “I shall withdraw my spirit from you, Eddie. Just remember, this child may seem harmless, but do not underestimate his wicked abilities.” Closing her eyes tightly, she straightened her fingers as she pulled her wispy hand away from Eddie’s mortal soul. Slowly, the infuriated editor began to regain his physical body, his once cloaked figure returning to full visibility.
As the tiny brunette stepped up onto the rigged trap, she exclaimed in a panic, “Wait a minute, where the heck did he come from?” Swiftly, Byron spun around to be greeted by the steaming face of a grown man who’d had enough of his childish mischief.
Before Byron could react, Eddie lunged out at the timid boy, swiftly tackling him against the hard tile floor. Byron saw stars as his head slammed against the ground in a whipping motion, the back of his skull connecting against the solid surface with immense force. Still, he refused to surrender, throwing a wild swinging kick at Eddie’s face. As Eddie reeled from the force of his attack, Byron leapt across the ground, but his intended target this time wasn’t his combating foe. Instead, he scooped up the fallen remote control unit, then gouged the silver button with a grin.
Eddie shouted a warning to the terrified contestant perched above the trap, “No! Hurry lady! Hop down from there before it’s too late!” However, his grim message was either misunderstood or disregarded, since the wide-eyed doe remained adamantly in position over the platform as the lights instantly fired up. Before she could even react to the intense beams of light, she swiftly discovered her legs were firmly stuck to the elevated pedestal.
“What the…?” uttered the petite woman as she bent down to investigate. Suddenly, she could see her high-heeled shoes glistening in the bright lights of the studio. A loud gasp escaped her lips as she screamed, “Oh my God! What is happening to me?” Swiftly and methodically, the shining lights swiveled upwards, quickly capturing her slim ankles, rendering the bony tissue into solid platinum, inside and out.
Eddie groaned in remorse as he tore into the wicked executioner, further incensed by his excessive cruelty. Using a powerful right jab, he broke the arrogant boy’s nose, sending plumes of blood gushing everywhere. Still not satisfied with his brutal strike, Eddie proceeded to wail on the betraying child until the scraggly boy sprawled in a heap on the floor. Once certain the villain was effectively knocked out, he heard a piercing scream emanating from the unlucky contestant as she continued to harden inexorably.
“Ahhh! Help me, please! I beg you!” yelled the mortified lady as she struggled to move away from the pulsing platform, but to no avail. Already, her shapely thighs were completely altered into radiant platinum, and she rightfully feared her predicament solemnly.
Eddie sadly approached the swiftly changing maiden, saying dejectedly, “I’m so sorry I failed you. There’s no way to halt this process now, I’m afraid.” Quickly, the stiffening girl moaned in anguish as she felt her sensitive pelvis completely harden, the soft skin below chilling undeniably as her once sizzling flesh froze in an instant.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God!” bellowed the poor woman as she flailed her arms wildly, hoping to experience as much movement as possible before her unavoidable transformation captured her into a stationary museum piece. As her taut stomach surrendered to platinum, she stared into Eddie’s eyes while cursing herself for not trusting his curt warning earlier. “What will become of me?” begged the alarmed damsel in utter distress. Under her skimpy bikini, she could feel icy tightness emanating from her perky breasts as she sensed them becoming silvery metal. Reaching out a tentative hand, she touched her stiffened breast, then gasped as it too locked up, her manicured fingers tingling intensely before hardening permanently against her rounded chest.
Understanding the inevitable conclusion was drawing near, the breathless lady quickly uttered in a halting tone, “My name is Wanda… Pleasant. Please tell my… family… I love them… with all… of my heart. I… shall… miss… th…” Abruptly, her voice fell silent as the breath stilled in her lungs, although Eddie understood her intent clearly, despite her inability to complete the humble request.
As her neck became ensnared by chrome-like metal, Eddie sympathetically replied, “Wanda, I promise, I shall express your love to your family. But I first I will focus my energy on freeing you from this captive state. I shall never relent until I have saved you and all of the others from this ghastly fate.” Inside the glittering monument she was becoming, poor Wanda could feel immense relief knowing she’d at least be capable of reaching her beloved family, even if she could no longer convey her adoration herself. Unremittingly, the pulsating lights swept up her face, locking her terrified expression into a sparkly mask of pure terror, captured flawlessly in shimmering metal.
Eddie wept as he watched her completely transform into a lifeless statue of solid platinum. “I could have prevented this,” whispered the grief-stricken man as he turned his attention back to the villain that captured her into such a horrified sculpture. Shaking him violently, he screamed, “You little bastard! Don’t you have any sense of shame or guilt?” As he released his forceful grip, the unconscious boy slammed against the floor with a thud. Grabbing the remote from his limp hand, Eddie studied the device thoroughly before dolefully depressing the launching button.
Once the statue of Wanda Pleasant plummeted down the chute, Eddie grabbed the wicked boy, slinging the cursed lad over his shoulder. Placing his unmoving body onto the platform, he slapped the hazy scoundrel until he sputtered back to life.
“Stand up, you piece of shit!” yelled Eddie at the top of his lungs. “It’s time for you to get a taste of your own medicine, you worthless little twerp!” Groggily, the boy wavered as he stood upon the dais, still too distant to realize the very real threat being thrust upon him. “I hope you rot in hell, Byron!” screamed Eddie as he stabbed at the silver button.
Byron’s eyes suddenly became alert as he felt himself becoming fused to the pedestal beneath his feet. Looking down in horror, he suddenly understood what it must have felt like for all of his victims as he saw his legs hardening into unbending platinum. “Oh, no!” he screamed as he struggled to flee, but found he couldn’t resist in the least. Eddie grinned as the rogue regained consciousness at the peak of terror.
“It’s poetic justice that you should suffer the same fate as your victims,” gloated Eddie, as the mechanical lights captured the dastardly boy. Sweeping up his waist, Byron felt his entire body tightening uncontrollably as he stood helplessly upon his own trap, unable to halt the very contraption he’d grown to love dearly over the past few days. As his bird-like chest coagulated, he felt his organs knotting up as they stiffened, the moist tissue no longer responding to his brain’s automatic commands.
Haltingly, Byron said in a whimper, “I regret… nothing.” Before long, his battered face began to glow as it too solidified into silvery metal, cementing his confused anguish in lustrous platinum. As the lights dimmed then lowered, a scrawny statue stood as a testament to weakness and defeat. In bitter spite, Eddie spat into his pathetic face, reveling in his victory over the despotic beast.
Grabbing a piece of paper, he scribbled an irate message:
“Your wicked ally has been dealt with. As you can plainly see, we have shown no mercy to your henchman. You shall be our next target, Emperor Titus! We will not rest until every last human is released from your oppressive treachery!
Signed,Tearing off several pieces of masking tape, he firmly secured the note to Byron’s rigid forehead before unceremoniously launching him down to the preparation room. “Nice touch,” commented Lillian after reading the eloquent note. “But remember, Eddie, this is only one small victory. There is a massive battle to be won if we hope to save the hundreds of human contestants still held within Emperor Titus’ evil clutches.”
The Human Resistance”
Supportively, Eddie replied, “I know, Lillian. Believe me, I’m now determined to wipe these Valerians off of the map if they refuse to surrender. We will make them pay for working to enslave the human race. And the first step is organization.” With dedicated hostility, Eddie plowed through the rear door in search of weaponry. After wheeling in twenty carts loaded with powerful ammunition, he smiled at Lillian maniacally. “Just think,” offered Eddie in glee, “those laughable aliens never anticipated just how useful that contraption over there could be for us.” Pointing to the gleaming platform, he winked at Lillian mysteriously before walking purposefully to the front door.
Slowly opening the locked entrance, Eddie shouted, “If there’s anybody
still waiting to be served, please calmly step this way right now.”
To be continued...
On to Part Seventeen