"Hey, Cinn, do you know were Shana went to?"
Cinnabar Steele--also known as Scirocco, the founding member of Team Paragon--shrugged and returned to the newspaper, biting into a jelly donut. "Who knows? She's never been one to live a tame life."
Lori blushed. Cinnabar was putting it mildly. Shana, or Xenon as she was known to the mundane world, often returned from her wild nights bragging of her conquests. She'd even confided to Lori she'd gotten her clit pierced. Lori couldn't imagine doing such a thing. Ouch! Still, the older crimefighter fascinated her. She laughed at ALOSH's regulations and seemed determined to live down her image as a "Paragon" of liberty, decency and the American Way. Scirocco kept her on the team only because A) she was so good at what she did, especially regarding technical matters; and B) they went back a long way together. Even Lori had to admit that Shana, despite her appetite for sensual adventure, would lay down her life for her friends.
"She'll be back by Friday," Cinnabar said. "After all, we have that all-hands meeting."
Lori nodded. The members of Team Paragon--Scirocco, Xenon, Blue Cymbidium, Chrystar, White Rose, and Arctica, herself--met every Friday night in Scirocco's loft to discuss the week's events and the state of crime in the city. It wasn't unusual for superheroes, or superheroines, to team up. It allowed them to pool their resources and share information, and also provided a support network in what was a very isolated and dangerous job.
Of course, they all had their "mundane" or workaday identities. Lori was a medical student, Cinnabar an archaeologist doing research for the Near East Institute. Not all their occupations were glamorous, though. White Rose drove a cab while Blue Cymbidium worked for the LA Parks and Recreation Department. Chrystar was an independent makeup artist for the movies. Xenon had been a body double and sometime porn actress before becoming the owner-operator of her own latte stand.
"Hey, look at this," Cinnabar said, flipping her long red-brown hair over her shoulder. "They're opening up a new Sexateria store in Hollywood."
"Isn't that the one they were having all that controversy about?"
"Yeah. Remember the protesters? 'Not in MY backyard!' " Cinnabar chuckled.
"They said the neighborhood wasn't zoned for adult entertainment," Lori said.
"Not according to the Sexateria reps. They claimed they were no different from a Costco or Barnes & Noble."
"Well, calling the stores Sexateria doesn't help their cause any," Lori said.
"I think it's cute," Scirocco said. She held up the paper to show the younger superheroine the ad. A sketchy, Jules Feiffer-like cartoon of a young man and woman with a downtown look walked out of the store holding two shopping bags from which a few...things...protruded. Above was the Sexateria logo in tall, retro-fifties letters. The caption read: WE'RE GOING TO COME... Below it, in smaller letters, was: ...to Hollywood soon, on September 9.
"There's a coupon, too," Cinnabar said, mischeivously waggling her eyebrows up and down. "Ten percent off all merchandise at any store."
"No thank you," Lori said primly. She grabbed the last jelly dougnut off the plate. "I've got to run. I've got class today."
"Oh, lighten up, kiddo," Cinnabar said. "They're just doing the great American capitilist thing. They're probably decent people at heart."
Leaving Xenon locked in the van, Plastica bounded upstairs to her Century City condo, where she transformed herelf, via business suit, wig, and glasses, from Plastica into Paula Jean Estes, the effervescent Vice President of Merchandising of Sexateria, Inc. She made a call to her head display artist. "Hello, Kate honey?" she said, adopting the sexy southern drawl that marked this persona. "This is Paula Jean. Listen, I really hate waking you up so early, but I've got something you just have to see. Meet me at the dock of the Wilshire store in an hour."
She hung up the phone, beaming with satisfaction, and slipped on a string of pearls. Paula Jean was a fun persona, but as an executive Plastica had to dress more conservatively than she usually did. She smoothed the creases out of her pale green Donna Karan suit and went downstairs to have a quick cup of coffee. Then she went back to the van.
She couldn't resist a peak. Xenon lay on her back, her legs canted up because of the round, wheeled base of the stand. Plastica threw in a couple of blankets to help cushion her. The last thing she wanted was for her new mannequin to chip its finish. "Comfy?" she said lightly. Xenon didn't answer.
Traffic was heavy on Wilshire, as it always this hour of the morning. Plastica drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. She couldn't wait to see Kate's reaction. Though she had a fair amount of control as VP she left most of the day-to-day aspects to her assistants. To oversee every detail would take up far too much of her time. Still, she would involve herself directly for something like this.
She clicked the security gates open and drove the van up to the dock. It only took a little bit of maneuvering to wheel Xenon up the ramp to the receiving area inside.
Kate Spolington, the head visual merchandiser for the Wilshire store, arrived a few minutes later. "Oh--" she gasped. "It's so...real." She couldn't help running her hand over the mannequin's smooth plastic skin. "Where did you get it?"
"Oh, it's a secret honey," Plastica said in her southern drawl. "A new company, let's leave it at that. This one's an experimental model. They're not taking orders yet, but they will be. If we like this one, they'll give us an exclusive deal."
Kate nodded, still running her hands over the mannequin's torso. She seemed particularly taken with the large breasts and their nipples. In contrast to her boss, she dressed as flamboyantly as only a VM could in LA, her slim, toned body a perfect showcase for the hottest young designers. She walked around to the mannequin's rear, then tried to bend one of its arms. "Oh," she said with dissapointment."You can't move it."
Plastica's face fell. Damn, she'd forgotten about that. Xenon was as rigid as a two-by-four.
"Do its head or limbs come off, maybe?" Kate said, grasping Xenon by the neck and pulling.
"Better be careful, honey. It's on loan." Kate dropped her hands. Plastica realized what faux pas she'd made. What good was a mannequin if you couldn't pose it?
"Well, it is an intriguing pose, even if you can't move it," Kate mused. She glanced down at the thick pole emerging from Xenon's plasticized pussy. "That pole gives the idea of penetration. She looks like she's having one helluva orgasm."
Plastica laughed. "Exactly!"
"And with those arms and legs spread out, she looks like she's been caught in a spiderweb, or some kind of bondage scene. Hmm, I could do an interesting theme around that. Fake cobwebs, the helpless heroine stuck in the middle, in fancy lingerie--"
"I was thinking of the B&D department myself," Plastica said.
"Or leather gear, right. It'll be attention-getting if nothing else. Sure to turn heads." She touched Xenon's shoulder, sending her scooting forward on her rollers a little. "And so light? Oh yeah, we've got to have this. Our VMs will LOVE it!"
"I'm glad you like it. We'll be getting more in the future, for all the stores," Plastica said. That is, as soon as she changed the formula. The poses would be a problem. The subject might have to be tied into position somehow, and it wouldn't look natural. She'd have to find a way of freezing or paralyzing them first. It was the perfect setup, though. Money would go out of Sexateria Inc. and into the dummy corporation she'd set up to take care of the mannequin business. She'd be practically operating within the law.
"We should get the posable kind, though. Does this company have a catalog? I'd like to look through it--find out about prices, ordering lots. We have to be sure to have some racial diversity, too--Latinos, Asians--"
"I'll be taking care of that," Plastica said abruptly. Still, Kate had brought up an important point. She amended her words with a smile. "With your advice and support of course." That should satisfy her. If Kate got too nosy about the source, she might have to be turned into a mannequin herself. "Let's take her...er, it, inside. I want to see how it looks in the store."
Kate placed her hands on Xenon's waist and wheeled her through the doors.
*I am a mannequin.*
She knew her name--Xenon--but not any other information about herself. She was in a store, a most fascinating store, full of books and magazines with pictures of naked people on them and shelves of odd bottles and potions. The two women chatted as they wheeled her past long counters under which strange objects gleamed brightly. Xenon knew one of the woman. She had done...something...to her, but she couldn't remember what it was. It wasn't important. She was a mannequin now. Remembering was too hard.
So she absorbed her surroundings without analyzing them, neither intrigued nor upset at this strange turn in her adventure. The women had to turn her sideways to get her through doorways, as her arms and legs were spread in a giant, undignified X: palms outward, toes pointed. It was an exposed and degrading position, but Xenon didn't worry about it. She belonged in this position. It was what she was made for. She didn't feel her limbs anyway. Nor did she feel the thick pole that protruded between her legs. The pole ended in a set of rubber wheels, her only means of mobility. They made a slight squeaking noise against the floor.
The women took her inside an elevator which carried her to another floor. There were more things here...costumes, whips and chains, and a number of padded tables and benches that looked like crosses between furniture and exercise equipment. They wheeled her over to the lingerie department and positioned her next to a rack filled with satin teddies, bras, and panties. There were two other mannequins near her. They had been posed flat on their feet as if they were actually standing, their arms held naturally.
The flamboyantly dressed younger woman looked from the posed mannequins to Xenon. "No comparison," she said. "I know they're Adel Rootsteins, but this one just looks more real, more...frozen, for want of a better word, even in that crazy position. I'd like to keep it here to watch peoples' reactions."
"Do that," the taller woman said. Her voice chilled Xenon, though she didn't know why. "Have some of your assistants circulate among the shoppers to overhear the comments. I'd like to hear them." She looked at her watch. "I'm going to get some breakfast now; I'll be back at nine. More people than usual will be be at the opening today because of those coupons, so warn the staff."
"I will," the younger woman said as her boss left. She began to dress Xenon in a pair of sheer white stockings, hooking them to a frilly garter belt around her waist. She tried to put a pair of satin panties on Xenon, but realized the pole got in the way.
"What were thinking, Paula?" she muttered in an annoyed tone. Finally she snipped the thong, sewing it back together when the panties were around Xenon's hips. She pressed the seam into Xenon's hard, smooth buttcrack to hide it.
The stockings and panties reminded Xenon of something, but she couldn't remember. Had she worn them before? The memory imploded, leaving her mind a blank slate again. It was much easier to watch the woman dress her. She hooked a push-up bra around Xenon's breasts--strapless, so she wouldn't worry about getting her arms through the straps--and draped a pale blue feather boa around her neck. Then she sprayed Xenon's scalp with some kind of adhesive and pressed a blonde wing into it. She fussed with a crimping iron for a bit.
"Pretty as picture," she said at last. As a last touch, she applied some cosmetics to Xenon's face, then, grinning mischievously, a pair of star-shaped sunglasses on her nose with hot pink lenses.
Then she left her alone.
Xenon stared out at the empty store, hot California sunlight beginning to stripe the floor across the aisle. Without the stimulation her mind faded to an empty movie screen, then the curtains covered it and she thought no more.
Despite Cinnabar's assurances Lori still worried about her teamate. Shana's latte stand wasn't in its usual place that day. Of course, she might have run into some emergency, as crimefighters often did. Lori tried to tell herself that that was the case.
When she returned from her classes the loft she shared with Cinnabar was empty; the other crimefighter had gone out for the afternoon. Lori checked the messages. Nothing. Again, she knew she didn't have to worry--Shana could take care of herself--but she did. Superheroes always worried about each other because it was such a dangerous job. That was one of the reasons they burned out so quickly.
When Lori first joined Team Paragon Cinnabar had taken her to the West Coast ALOSH headquarters for orientation to the responsibilities of her new position. To impress into the danger of her new job, she took Lori to a room where a costumed superheroine like herself stood staring into a TV screen. She didn't acknowledge them. Lori wondered why she looked so vacant. As she came closer she saw the young woman was not breathing. Indeed, she wasn't moving at all. An awful chill rippled down Lori's spine. "Who is that?"
"Her name was Photon," Cinnabar whispered. Not is; *was.*
Photon stood with her legs slightly apart, arms at her sides with her palms facing outward. Her eyes were wide, lips slightly parted in a blank yet somehow trapped expression. The awkwardness of the pose drew Lori closer, walking around to her side--and she she saw why Photon was so blank. "Oh God, no..." her hands flew to her mouth.
"A criminal genius named named Catwalk captured her," Cinnabar said in a low voice. "She was using the persona of a designer in the fashion industry."
"But she's..." Lori sputtered, unable to look away from the awful reality...that Photon was as flat and two-dimensional as a figure cut from cardboard.
"Catwalk invented a device called the transdimensional reducer. She turned it on Photon so she could play with her 'life-sized, living paper doll.' "
Lori felt hot tears well up in her eyes. "Can she hear us?" she whispered.
"I don't know," Cinnabar said sadly.
Lori tore her eyes away and looked around the room. In contrast to the rest of the complex, which was sparse and functional, this room was outfitted with soft carpets and overstuffed sofas, with fresh flowers everywhere. Curtained windows gave view into the redwoods of Northern California. A stereo system with a CD player sat in one corner and pictures and paintings covered the walls; there was even a table with a fresh meal laid on it. It was as if the staff were making every attempt to provide visual, audial, and olfactory stimulation.
A comedy starring Julia Roberts was playing on the VCR. Photon showed no reaction; the passage to two dimensions had effectively frozen all signs of life.
"She's been that way for eight years," Cinnabar said. "The transdimensional reducer was destroyed along with Catwalk's hideout; our scientists here are still trying to figure out how to reverse the process. In the meantime, we keep Photon here. The staff move her from room to room, play the movies and music for her, and take her outside sometimes. They have to be very careful. She weighs only ounces now, so gust of wind could blow her away like that." She snapped her fingers.
"I'm sorry," Lori said to the silent figure. Cinnabar took her outside.
Lori knuckled her tears, thinking of Photon frozen on her stand, her fiery orange hair as coifed as when she had woken up that fateful day, her one-piece yellow unitard unwrinkled by the motions of her body. A fresh, shiny paper doll...forever. "Why did you show me that?" she sobbed.
Cinnabar remained implacable. "So you understand exactly what you're getting into."
Lori never forgot the lesson she learned that day. The number rule, as Cinnabar often said, was To Be Careful. Always Be Careful.
She grabbed something to eat from the fridge, then decided to go out and enjoy the sunshine. The Times was still open to the Sexateria ad. Lori grinned. Why not? She carefully tore the coupon free.
In a half hour she was at the Wilshire store, the largest one. Business was brisk, going by the amount of people that passed in and out of the doors. To her relief most of them looked perfectly normal, not leering old perverts or bleached-blonde nude dancers. They could have been students on her campus or workers in the office building across the street. Relieved, she decided that if they could walk in without embarassment, she could too. She walked through the double doors into the cool open-mouthed kiss of the store's air conditioning system.
A polite young man carded her to verify she was over eighteen, then sales assistants bombarded her with samples and coupons: free condoms, a coupon for a free video rental, a catalog. "Welcome to Sexateria," they said, with identical smiles. "We hope you enjoy shopping here."
She picked up a shopping basket of high-tech chrome wire. The store surprised her. She had expected either adult-bookstore tackiness or the overdone frippery of a Victoria's Secret. But whoever designed Sexateria had a puckish sense of humor about it. Crazy retro-fifties lettering marked the walls, announcing each department, and there were humorous if risque displays like a Jolly Green Giant-sized dildo hanging from the ceiling. Lori was reminded irresistably of Disneyland and the unique California penchant for cartoonization. Even the sales staff looked hip and ironic. Both male and female employees wore dark pants and tuxedo shirts with shocking pink bow ties, as if they were laughing at themselves and at the whole idea of a Sexateria store. "We're having fun with this, and so should you," they seemed to say.
The casual atmosphere must have worked on everyone else, too, for they were shopping exactly as if they were in a Kmart or Ralph's. So Lori felt free to browse the merchandise too.
The book section was very large, including health, medical, psychology, self-help, and gay and lesbian sections. There was a large selection of art books and, of course, erotica. She put a copy of "Beauty's Punishment" in her basket before she left.
The video rental department boasted the largest selection of porn in LA, everything from vintage to foreign; but going by what was playing on the monitors, most were exactly as tawdry as their boxes suggested. Across the aisle were several long racks of magazines, perused by too many desperate-looking men. She decided to skip it.
Next came the safe sex department, which included condoms, contraceptive sponges, enema bags, and other essentials. Next door was a large medical section which had everything from aspirin to herbal aphrodisiacs. There was a fully functional pharmacy, a post office, even a Starbucks.
This store has everything, she thought.
The sex aids department was laid out like a jewelry store, long rows of cases overseen by discrete, helpful attendants. Free flyers were available in cardboard holders: "Choosing a vibrator" "The myth of cockrings" and "Just what are buttplugs, anyway?" She disovered that silicon vibrators were superior to latex ones and that it was better to work your way up from smaller buttplugs to larger ones as your anal muscles stretched. Some of the other equipment made her cheeks burn.
She glanced at her watch. Had it been an hour already?
She still hadn't seen the clothes, so she took the escalator to the second floor. There were men's and women's bathing suits, sleepwear, underwear, and other garments that had no other function but a fantasy one--frilly maids' outfits, leather Harley Davidson caps, tear-away briefs and panties. She giggled as she held up what looked like a shiny black jockstrap with leather suspendors attached. What would her boyfriend look like in this? Cal was so straight; he never wore anything but white briefs.
Glancing across the aisle, she noticed a small group of shoppers had gathered around one of the mannequins. In contrast to the others, which slumped in erotic languor, this mannequin looked like it had been electrified, arms and legs splayed in a giant X as far as they could go. It wore a white satin panty and bra ensemble with stockings, a feather boa, and a pair of kitschy star-shaped sunglasses which hid its face. Its lips were puckered as if to say "Mwah!" accompanied by a sexy kiss. The shape of the eyewear was echoed in the pose, its head, arms, and legs each forming one point of a giant star.
Lori couldn't take her eyes off it. It looked so...real, despite the artifice involved in the pose. Almost as if a living person, someone she knew, had been stuck on a pole. She noticed a display of those same star-shaped sunglasses had been set next to the mannequin. Already half of them were gone, even though they were ridiculously overpriced.
Welcome to Hollywood, she thought. She started humming an old Kinks song and turned her attention back to the racks.
After much deliberation she picked out several items to try on in the dressing room. Number one was a pair of silk tap pants, then a padded push-up bra which her firm, uptilted breasts really didn't need. Number three was a boned satin corset, as fully functionless and decorative as only a piece of boudoir wear could be.
She couldn't help grinning as she regarded herself in the mirror; part of it was how slutty she looked. The elasticized corset cinched her waist, making it even narrower, and above it were two underwired cutouts for each breast, with stiff shelves of fabric that held them erect. The legs were cut almost to her waist, sexy black lace filling in the vee, and the back they tapered down to a cute little thong that disappeared between her cheeks. She had to keep her own panties on, which ruined the effect, but she couldn't believe how sexy she felt. Oh, Cal would like this! She did a few steps of a va-va-voom dance, making her breasts tremble in their underwired cups. Her nipples tightened like a pair of pink marbles and a warm spurt of liquid suddenly stained her panties. No wonder the attendants made you keep your underwear on.
She glanced at the price tag to bring herself down to earth. Sixty-five ninety-nine. She made a face. Even with her coupon it was too much. She should wait for a sale.
Leaving the garments with the attendant, she noticed two store employees moving the electrified mannequin from its place in lingerie to another department. It attracted a lot of attention as it sailed down the aisle, the movers joking good-naturedly with the crowd.
Lori frowned. What was it about it that seemed so familiar...
From clothing she passed through shoes--mostly black leather, with absurdly high heels--then through furniture. First came waterbeds and special mirrors, then the padded benches and frames of the bondage world. No thank you, she thought, moving on to the next department, and the next, and then the aisle that would take her down the escalator with her purchases.
On the way she passed a simulated cave, a dungeon with gray stone blocks painted on the walls. Inside was a selection of leather and vinyl bondage wear. The electrified-looking mannequin had been moved to the cave's mouth where the staff were dressing it in a new outfit. Curious, she stopped to watch. They fitted a pair of thigh-high boots on the mannequin's legs and a sort of leather push-up thing under its breasts, which were pinched by two nipple clamps that had a chain dangling between them. They removed its wig and sunglasses to fit on a leather bondage hood.
It was Xenon's face. Startled, blank, and very, very, trapped.
She only had a brief look before the hood slid into place, the handlers zipping it up like magic. Lori shook her head. Was she dreaming?
Then the handlers stood aside to fit on a leather g-string, and Lori saw, between the thing's legs where the pole emerged, a tiny gleam of gold on the realistically modeled genitalia. A clit ring. Then the panties were tied in place and fastened to a spiked leather corset with many buckles and straps.
She stepped back, mind reeling. A clit ring. Who would bother to put a clit ring on a mannequin?
Who would bother to model realistic gentialia for a mannequin, either?
Her head felt light. Clutching her purchases, she made her way to the registers. Of course, Sexateria was a store specializing in sexual items; why wouldn't their mannequins have realistic organs complete with piercings? But that didn't explain Xenon's face, or her wide blue eyes!
She was so flustered she forgot to use her coupon.
On to Chapter 3: Welcome to the Dollhouse
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