After two hours of relentless marching, the four remaining adventurers began to see a bright light glimmering within the distance. The cavern began to rustle with shimmering reflections and ominous shadows, only a prelude to the mysteries tucked away inside this secluded locale deep under the ocean.
Sliding along the thick cavern wall, the rugged team planned a discrete approach. Instead of following the path directly forward, they decided instead to loop around the bustling entrance dock, surrounded by twitching security staff. Sergeant Magnum paused for a brief moment to study Meg’s stern and determined facial expression, utterly fascinated by the hauntingly beautiful reverberating pulses of light bouncing off of her delicate features. Even more dizzying than a hopping dance floor, the barrage of chilly luminosity was almost hypnotic. “Stay alert, everyone,” urged Sergeant Magnum in a projected whisper. “Once we get around to the other side, we’ll duck under that barricade.”
Staying low to the ground, they each rolled under a set of sliding beacon lights before gathering alongside the domed wall. Two by two, they slunk into a deep trench dug along the perimeter of the peculiar steel structure. As they began to organize their forces below, a pair of armed guards approached from a side door directly above them. Making certain not to touch the powerful armor, the three ladies rapidly tripped each officer by the ankles using their longest weapons, instantly knocking them down into the pit. Reaching around each officer’s back, Tatiana quickly switched off the pulsing armor. Then, using a stun gun, Lieutenant Tatiana quickly and efficiently rendered each soldier unconscious, silently ensuring their hidden position would remain a secret. Once certain the guards were effectively rendered harmless, Tatiana nodded to Commander Kari in restrained celebration.
“Alright,” whispered Commander Kari urgently. “Now we have a way in!” Hurriedly, all four of them began to carefully strip the decorated uniforms from the limp bodies of the fallen guards. As Lieutenant Tatiana began to tie up the lifeless soldiers, Commander Kari asked plainly, “Which two shall we send in first?”
Sergeant Magnum quickly stepped forward, saying determinedly, “Let me go, commander. I have extensive knowledge of their organization, as well as an odd familiarity with this previously unknown structure. Besides, I can feel Lieutenant Godiva’s spirit even more clearly now that we’re this close. I’m certain I’ll be able to ascertain the location of the elemental generators, ma’am.” Saluting proudly, Sergeant Magnum was raring to go, anxious to free his valued friends and colleagues.
Meg instantly perked up as she heard Magnum volunteer for such a dangerous assignment. ‘I wonder what sort of bond he has with this Lieutenant Godiva,’ thought the concerned woman with a frown. Whether motivated by fear of injury to her beloved sergeant or adamant jealous trepidation, Meg instantly leapt up, saying, “I want to go, too, Commander Kari. Let me assist Sergeant Magnum, please. I won’t let you guys down!”
Sergeant Magnum, deeply concerned about his precious Meg’s physical safety asked quietly, “Are you sure, Meg? I don’t want to see you hurt in there!”
Meg simply nodded to Magnum, saying delicately, “If you go in, Magnum, then I go in.”
Commander Kari studied her brave couple proudly before analyzing Lieutenant Tatiana’s fragile condition. Already wounded in two places, the diligent Russian beauty seemed distracted not only by pain but also by sorrow for the loss of her longtime ally, Lady Hydra. Slowly, Commander Kari asked, “Sergeant Magnum, are you sure your leg has properly healed for this? Do you think it will hinder you while attempting this hazardous mission?”
Sergeant Magnum flexed his right leg several times, hoping to prove his capable physical condition to the fretful commander. Without muttering a groan or a whimper, the sergeant replied, “I’d be lying if I said I was at one hundred percent, ma’am. However, I’m certain with all of the repair work you’ve done that I’m now capable of functioning effectively. I’ve been able to keep pace recently, and I think my knee has limbered up well with all of the walking we’ve been forced to endure lately.”
Eventually, Commander Kari had to admit her sergeant did seem to be the best person for the mission, despite his injured condition. Slowly, she smiled as she saluted the brave pair, saying unwaveringly, “Alright then, you two. Suit up. I’m confident in your abilities and your dedication.” Handing a small radio transmitter to her plucky partner, she said, “Use this to keep us posted on your progress.”
Meg grabbed the tiny device before tying her long hair up in a bun. As Lieutenant Tatiana helped her squeeze into the slightly binding breastplate, Meg sucked in a deep breath as she became secured inside the tight armor. Once both Meg and Magnum were properly donning the intimidating security uniforms, they powered up the body armor before climbing up the embankment. Waving a veiled goodbye to the remaining crew members, they marched across the rocky ground with dedicated purpose in their step, attempting to replicate the other grim security officers gathered around.
Grabbing a swipe card from his pocket, Sergeant Magnum approached a thick door concealed within the rounded surface of the stainless steel building. Quickly, the red light flashed green as the door unlocked. Stepping inside the unlocked door, both Meg and Magnum steadied themselves as they entered, fully expecting potential resistance. However, the other guards simply saluted the pair, thoroughly unaware of their true identities. Inside her domed helmet, Meg sighed silently as they wandered throughout the ground floor. “We’re in,” whispered Meg over the headset.
Striding side by side, they eventually approached a glossy series of elevators. Magnum quickly depressed the call button on the elevator, causing a pair of doors to swing open immediately. As they both stepped inside, Magnum closed his eyes, hoping to feel his trapped partner, Lieutenant Godiva.
“Where do we go now, Magnum?” asked Meg sensitively.
Suddenly, Sergeant Magnum perceived a warm sensation welling up within as he reached out for Godiva’s soul. ‘Tell me where you are, Godiva,’ projected Magnum, hoping an answer would pop into his throbbing head. Quickly, his hand began to move without a mental command, immediately stabbing the button for the subbasement level.
As they plummeted down to the bottom floor, Meg asked tentatively, “So, do you feel her, Magnum? What’s it like?”
Sergeant Magnum studied his tender friend, standing defensively in her cloak of armor. As her jealous concern began to dawn on him, he replied quietly, “Oh, now I get it. You think because I can feel her prescence that maybe I have romantic feelings for her, is that it?”
Stammering slightly, the seductive Scotswoman replied, “Well, now that you mention it, I am disturbed by your seemingly close relationship to another woman.”
Slowly, Magnum began to feel a warm glow in his stomach, as he understood her possessive concern. Delicately, he offered, “Trust me, Meg, it isn’t like that at all. You are the only person that I think of that way.”
Inside her rigid helmet, Meg could feel herself blushing. As her racing mind began to ease, she smiled in contentment, fully aware of Sergeant Magnum’s noble intentions. Before she could apologize for her mistrust, the elevator doors snapped open, revealing a massive room full of shimmering statues.
Instantly, a loud voice rang out from a man holding a clipboard, “Good, you’ve finally arrived! Follow me.” Apprehensively, both disguised teammates followed the man’s timid lead. Eventually, he led them to a smaller room featuring a small section of plastic tubing and a long conveyor belt rolling overhead. Strewn all along the grubby floor were hundreds of low-wheeled carts. Pointing to a grimacing, silver male statue, the somber man said anxiously, “This one was delivered only moments ago. Attached to his forehead was this note.” Unceremoniously, the twitching man handed Sergeant Magnum a scrawled note, frowning nervously as he waited for a command from the security officer.
Upon reading the aggressive message, Sergeant Magnum replied in a deep voice, “It was good of you to call us. We’d better guard this floor, just in case these threats prove to be true.” Reaching into a pocket, Sergeant Magnum produced a small plastic bag. As he carefully bagged up the evidence, he stated to the earnest supervisor, “You may return to your duties, sir. We’ll handle this situation ourselves.”
Saluting with noticeable relief, the slight man said, “Understood, officer.” Spinning on his heels, he returned to his loitering staff, barking orders to the lethargic slackers. Once the exasperated man departed, Magnum handed the scribbled note to Meg.
As she read the note in excitement, Sergeant Magnum whispered, “It seems
there are others out there that share our quest to save these people, Meg.
Perhaps the balance of power is shifting to our side after all?”
As Katherine’s office door swung open, Scientist Turner screamed, “Bring me Eddie Lambert, Katherine! I now have enough proof to warrant severe punishment!”
The attractive executive began to sweat as she attempted to fumble for words. Pulling out a security diskette, she popped the software into a viewer before saying, “Scientist Turner, I have terrible news regarding Mr. Lambert’s current whereabouts.” Quickly, a flickering image of Eddie working in his editing suite displayed on the large screen. After a few seconds, the exhausted man seemed to vanish into thin air. Stammering slightly, Katherine added reluctantly, “Mr. Turner, I made certain to have two guards posted outside of his door, and I also made certain to watch his activities all day. I have no idea how he did it, sir, but somehow he disappeared without a trace.”
Scientist Turner studied his obnoxious employee for a moment; her timid eyes hovered around the floor as she shivered with absolute terror. Slowly, Scientist Turner stuck a hand in his pocket as he began to approach her quivering location. Lifting her chin up with his index finger, he said in a frustrated tone, “I’m extremely disappointed, Katherine! You were expressly warned to keep a tight grasp on your subjugate, and you’ve failed.”
Katherine’s eyes began to well up as she begged, “Please, don’t blame me, sir! I exercised every precaution when dealing with Eddie. I can’t be held responsible for this odd disappearance!”
Slowly backing away from his previously stanch director of media operations, Scientist Turner projected a warm smile to the defensive woman, hoping to put her mind at rest. Gregariously, Turner laughed as he said, “I suppose you are right, Katherine. You’ve always been an effective manager throughout the past.” The horrified expression began to clear from her face as she sighed in relief. Still maintaining a defensive distance, she giggled slightly in exuberant release.
Without any warning, Scientist Turner pulled out a small weapon from his pocket, depressing the trigger as he pointed the device at his flawlessly dressed executive. The standing woman never had a chance to react before finding herself immersed within a strange pink glow. Her nervous laughter immediately fell silent as she felt her stockinged legs begin to harden, the once soft flesh tightening uncontrollably. Only a faint moan escaped from her smiling lips as she succumbed to the wrath of Scientist Turner. Swiftly, her thighs and waist crunched with energy as they also transformed from flesh and blood into hollow plastic and fiberglass.
“Your only mistake was finding pleasure in failing me, Ms. Ross,” bellowed Scientist Turner as her thin waist and ample breasts began to stiffen. As her tensely posed arms began to glaze, he added, “Now, I shall have the pleasure of capturing you at the very moment of your insubordination so I can make an example of you and your incompetence, my darling mannequin.”
Inside the delicate sculpture she was becoming, Katherine Ross wept as she felt her face calming before tingling uncontrollably. Her unmoving eyes quickly hardened into shimmering marbles of colorful glass as the rest of her face quickly became nothing more than rigid plastic. Within moments, she was trapped inside of her own body, harshly rendered into lifeless mannequin.
Gently rapping his knuckles against her transformed cheek, Scientist Turner smiled as he whispered into the stiffened folds of her ear, “Welcome to the collection, Katherine. Now we shall use your vibrant energy to propel us back to Valeria. Thank you for volunteering, my helpless little autocrat.”
Quickly, a small group of assistants lifted her onto a rolling hand-truck.
As she felt herself being tipped then rolled down the hall, she thought
somberly, ‘Looks like I should have taken that job at CNN instead.’
To be continued...
On to Part Eighteen