The redheaded mannequin known as Tiffany blinked once as she came back to life, gasping “…Don’t…?” before realizing that he used the gizmo on her again.
“Welcome back,” Flink greeted her. His position had seemed to jump from one side of her vision to the other in less than an eyeblink. But time hadn’t stopped; she had been frozen in suspended animation.
“How long this time?” she asked somewhat peevishly, relaxing from the pose that she had held as stiffly as a statue. Her throat felt dry; dusty. There were subtle changes in the cluttered room around her, and in the other mannequin figures that decorated the dwelling. The man who had just awoken the pretty young woman from her timeless stasis with the control box in his hand looked a bit different too.
He handed her a glass of clear liquid, which she sipped from cautiously. He chuckled, “No voddy for now, pure rodiwater; hafta clear thoughts. Be needing your memories unfuzzed.”
“Thanks, but what makes you think I would want to help you? First you rouse me from a perfectly good eternity to explain I’ve been turned into a window dummy for the last hundred years or more, then just as I’m getting used to being alive again, you zap me back into limbo. Now you want my memories. What’s up with that! Who gave you the right to be god almighty, anyway?” she was pacing in tight circles, working herself up into a minor frenzy, still feeling the effects of the alcohol she’d consumed upon her initial revival along with the fringes of a panic attack. Glancing to her left and seeing her modeling friend Jenny still sitting on a box, glassy-eyed, frozen stiff as a mannequin wasn’t helping any either.
“Make slow deep breathing; air is thicker than you know,” Flink cautioned. “Dinna pass out, Tiffany, there’s no medic for you. Sit for a nonce, why not?” He motioned to nearby crate, near to Jenny.
“You’re not going to freeze me again, are you? Not right away. I promise I won’t freak out on you,” Tiffany pleaded, the girl whose given name had been Sharon. “Jenny wanted to go back to being a mannequin – I don’t. Please?”
“Hai, not for now. Mayhap you start act crazy again….” He held up the control, one finger on the button that when pressed would place the spirited young woman back into an electronically induced state of suspension, just as he had found her, immobilized into a rigid lifelike display figure. He had no idea how the compact gizmo worked, just that it did, very effectively and reliably. At least it had so far; it might conk out at any second though.
“Gee, I’ll keep that in mind as I try to forget the life I had, the friends and lovers I knew, all dead and forgotten. Same for me, right? I’m just a phantom now; some mannequin you bought, fer crissakes! Wha’d you call me: a non-person…”
“Was wrong, Tiffany. You always be a person, very much real, evenso when you nix move; you be living now bitchin at me, fer sure. Only nix ID, that’s all. Doesn’t make you not-you, does it?”
“I guess not. You sure you’re not going to zap me with that thing again? It scares me...”
“Not for now, Hai?” Flink stated.
“Hai,” ‘Tiffany’ agreed with a slight smile as her attention had wandered to her immobilized friend sitting next to her; she began poking the suspended girl on the shoulder, amused by the way Jenny’s rigid body wobbled before settling back into place. “Spooky, you know; Jen has no idea I’m here at all, or that I’m playing with her.” To underscore the comment, she reached behind the frozen figure and unhooked Jenny’s bra, threading it around her posed arms before hanging the garment from one of the mannequin’s outstretched fingers. Jenny’s boobs stayed molded in position, as firm as the plastic display figure her stiffened body very much resembled right now. “Can I dress her up in something pretty?”
“Maybe later; Crystal is not going anyplace. Come to the panel; want to show you an image…” Flink suggested. “I stay wanting to call you Tiffany, but she told your name was “Shar…”
“Sharon, actually. Sharon Somers,” she replied, taking a few paces around the room as she scanned the contents, trying to pick out what had changed. Obviously Jenny had not, nor most of the other still female figures standing or sitting around in various poses. However, next to the mysterious third mannequin Sharon and Jenny had originally been posed with was a different statue-like young woman. This one was tallish and on the thin side, even for a display figure, with long arms and legs, pianist-slim fingers and a sinuous neck. This mannequin wore a pure white evening gown that clung to her supple figure like a second skin as the olive-skinned, dark-haired beauty regally stared off into infinity.
Tiffany walked up to the new mannequin, noting that it was as lifelike and detailed as she herself had been, or Jenny for that matter. “Who’s the new girl?” she asked, circling the stiffly posed young woman. “Someone who got too curious, maybe?” she guessed.
“Ney, but taking some time out evenso. Tiffany, say greets to Esmeralda, Esme for short; she’s my, uh, girlfriend.”
“Oh, but you said before she was real?” Tiffany knocked on the mannequin’s solid cheek.
“She is. Just like you and Jenny and that other girl. Frozen now. Saw you three and sort of got crazy jealous; makes no sense myself, but Esme started worrying about turning old, evenso she’s gonzo beautiful; she dinna want me reviving you or Crystal again. So I dinna. Months ago, her job went away, so Esme starts to just mope around this place and freeze-modeled all the time; told me she wanted to find out what truly becoming a mannequin felt like. Decided to help her. Needed some time myself to think and talk to you fine ladies. Worked out best for both of us.”
“Did you tell her before you zapped her that it feels like nothing at all as a mannequin; in a frozen void that lasts for eternity while the world changes around you in an instant? Did you mention what it’s like to lose control of your own existence and become just a pretty-looking object at someone else’s whim? Bet you didn’t.”
“She was… curious. Did ask, while I was tinking with the gizmo, found a way to key a number to a person. Esme has 23, her birthday. Talking about her existence, Esme dinna so anxious. Maybe she trusts me more. Looking gonzo in that highstyle dress now, hai?”
“Yes, but… how much time?” The redhead noticed a not-so-light coating of dust on the shoulders and hair of Flink’s manneqinized girlfriend.
“Ah, well, roundabout eight months…” he admitted.
“She’ll never know the difference, not if you clean her up before pushing the ‘go’ button. Speaking of, exactly how long was I out this time? I noticed you changed my dress…”
“Had to; the one you wore Esme took a liking to, it’s in her stash now. Don’t be high mad or freak out, but it’s been over two years.”
Sharon felt that sinking feeling again, then caught herself. Things could have been much worse than standing around in nice clothing, she reflected. “I thought you were looking a little more gray around the temples, there, Flink. Couldn't be all this cooped-up living in a closet with a freaky girlfriend getting to you, could it?”
“Some things just take…. time,” he demurred. “And privacy.”
“Oh? Like what, exactly? Wanted to explore your collection of frozen lovelies a little more, um, closely and your lady friend wasn’t into that?” She was tracing her fingers over Esme’s stiff body, following her lithe contours. “Or maybe you just like your lovers better when they can’t talk back or move?”
She hit a nerve, because he turned away to his computer station abruptly as he blushed, fighting the impulse to press the control’s button and send the impertinent Sharon into stasis again, where she couldn’t push his buttons. In fact, he’d cleaned her shapely mannequinized body many more times than just because of accumulating dust and her old dress wasn’t in Esme’s stuff; he’d ripped it apart when undressing her rigid figure one day.
“No business to you, either!” Flink shot back, irritated. “Dinna are you keyed up on how pernickety it is to make retinal scans of a living eyeball or locate subskin implants. Takes time, along with not moving a muscle; having you and Esme both as statues did the trick,” he explained, tossing a flat object to Sharon, which she caught; it was a Missoula Arcology ID card, showing an image of her own rather vacant face above the name ‘Esmeralda Marquez Chai Lovatny Griffin’. “Now you on the grid; go out wearing a dark wig and some body makeup and you could be her xerox. So, don’t thank me all at once!”
“Well, this is really wonderful,” she said weakly as she examined the badge. “I didn’t know.”
“No way you could, evenso as display.”
Having moved away from Esme, Sharon now circled closer to the motionless figure of the unknown lifelike mannequin, standing patiently like the piece of sculpture she so resembled. There was a quirky power about being so close the woman, knowing that she was trapped and couldn't lift a finger that intrigued the former mannequin model. Despite what she’d said before, the idea of being immobilized and helpless as a window dummy was turning her on just a little. She wondered if he had diddled her.
“Any idea who this one is?” Sharon asked a few seconds later. “I don’t know her at all.”
“Nada so far on Monique in alla scans, going back even before the newsclip of yourself from wayback.”
“You haven’t tried to revive ‘Monique’ with your gizmo?” Sharon said, skeptically. This blonde mannequin was wearing something different than she had been earlier, too.
“Tried, does not mean success,” Flink admitted. “Ran the numbers from 1 to 99; then display repeats. Nothing works. Maybe she really is an incredible facsimile?”
“You’ve got to be kidding, Flink. Pores in the skin; a tattoo on her ass, cuticles on her nails – really nice manicure, by the way – this frozen babe was as real and alive as Esme, Jenny, or me. She just isn’t right now; you haven’t found the right combination yet,” Sharon prodded.
“Tried them all; nothing working!” he retorted.
“Didja try zero-zero?” she suggested.
“No, but that’s not a real number; it’s nothing, twice over.”
“Real enough if you’ve ever bottomed out at the roulette table,” Sharon commented ruefully.
“It’s an old gambling game; probably outlawed now. Not important. Try it, what’s to lose here?”
“Truth enough,” Flink admitted while keying in the illogical sequence of numbers, then pressing what he’d started calling the ‘go button’. It should have been colored green…
The effect was immediate, as the mannequin figure’s skin lost its pearly sheen and a moment later the revived model took one of those surprised half-steps forward before realizing she wasn’t where she’d been the blink of an eye before. Flink and Sharon weren’t expecting what happened next, as this perfectly beautiful girl turned out to have a very colorful vocabulary.
“Oh, fuck me! Cocksuckers are gonna get it good for pulling this kinda stunt. Damn you all to bleedin hell!” she seethed, barely noticing the room or other mannequins around her, nor the other two living people. Her own half-nudity and unusual costume didn’t even register as she searched around for a familiar face to rebuke. Failing that, she focused on Flink and ignored Sharon as if she didn’t exist.
“You, there, get me my lawyer, on the double,” the young woman commanded with a familiar authority.
“Um, I be not who you think. Who are you, again?” Flink mumbled, taken aback as much by her attitude as her archaic slang.
“Well, of course you are. Don’t go playing dumb with me. Who put you up to this, Aldo?” The reanimated young woman demanded. Sharon/Tiffany snickered, which earned her a glare of contempt.
“Things aren’t what you conjure. Tell me your name… please?“ Flink pressed on.
“Everyone who’s anyone knows Danica Caslon; I’m in all the society pages. Now if you think you can…” her voice trailed off as if she’d lost her train of thought. Sharon looked over to see the familiar sheen of immobilization haze over the stiffening young woman’s features. A second or two later, Danica was a mannequin again. She was caught taking a step forward, one hand raised with a finger pointed at Flink.
“Whew! Thank you. I don’t think I could have taken much more of her smug crap,” Sharon chortled.
“Found what I needed to. Now you can help,” Flink muttered, ignoring the mannequin and moving to his computer screen, which popped into the air like a flat-panel display without a panel. “Who is she?”
“Hell if I know; that’s some fancy setup you got,” replied Sharon, moving behind him so she could read the words right-way round. “Caslon… sounds familiar, somehow, but she is on a different level. Whoa!”
An image of an old paper newscreed appeared on the screen, showing a reasonable likeness of the good-looking young woman who now stood mute and still just a few feet away:
Typography Heiress Vanishes
“Following an exclusive retreat at their private island, authorities report that the 26-year-old sole heir to the Caslon name and licensing revenues for that popular font series, along with a vast number of graphic elements, has been reported missing. Sources close to the investigation state that she had been seen boarding the shuttlecraft to the mainland, but did not debark at the destination. Fears are that the young debutante has fallen overboard and perished. Dominick “Big” Caslon, the scion of the font dynasty, could not be reached for comment. This latest tragedy overshadowed rumors of turmoil within the powerful family centered around the Caslon Foundation, a philanthropic organization championed and chaired by the now-missing Danica Caslon.
“That’s her!” Sharon blurted out.
“Seems like to just solved one mystery,” Flink agreed, then continued, “but likely unsheath a new question: Who did this to her?”
“You think someone suspended her on purpose to take out the foundation? That’s crazy, isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Flink granted, looking at the screen, which flashed multiple images in quick blinks before settling on another news clipping. “Says here in past she’d been legally declared dead, control of the Caslon Foundation passed to Aldo, her cousin. There’s nothing more for years until that foundation got implicated in some sort of trade scandal and declared bankruptcy right around the time her father died. No words on cousin, not even a deathknell.”
“Obituary?” Sharon questioned.
“Hai; old words sometimes strange,” Flink agreed.
“So, little Miss Bitchy-pants here is a bona-fide heiress, and probably rich as Midas, too,” Sharon said, walking back over to the frozen figure of Danica Caslon. Who woulda thought?
“Forchance not; she is ghost now. All her credits gone elsewhere.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that! I think I know how I can help get her to cooperate with us. Didn’t you say you had collected a bunch of clothing and costumes from my time? To dress the… us… in?” Sharon was energized.
“Hai. Over in big storage chest near corner, under Arabella,” Flink pointed.
“OK, now here’s the plan…” Sharon explained, picking up the lingerie-clothed figure of a hollow plastic, artificial, but life-like mannequin and placing it on another crate where the faux girl looked equally nice.
* * *
“OK, Mister Flink; ready, go for it!” Sharon announced a few minutes later.
“Dinna to call me Mister,” Flink objected as he pressed buttons on the control gizmo.
“I know; I just like pulling your chain…” she replied obscurely. Old-time slang again.
He didn’t have time to ask, as the typography heiress came back to life for the second time that day, completing her interrupted step and thought “…make me believe you…?” she trailed off, seeing how her clothes and Flink’s location had changed in what to her was an instant.
Sharon spoke into the silence, “We know who you are, Miss Caslon, or rather who you were. For the last hundred years or more, you’ve been nothing but a mannequin figure, just like I was, and what’s left of your family doesn’t even remember you existed. You’re a ghost; a nobody now.”
“What?” Danica gasped as the words sunk in and she saw her old world crumble before her eyes. She was many things, but slow on the uptake wasn’t one of them…
“What’s more, Mister Flink here has your number on his little control box. Step out of line and he’s going to press the button and you won’t be doing any more stepping or anything else for that matter. I hope you’ll enjoy spending eternity dressed as you are, a common house-servant!” That last wasn’t quite the literal truth, since Danica’s skimpy costume was that of a French Maid, complete with a black pleated miniskirt, matching dark thigh-high sheer nylon hose, black patent-leather high-heels, and white lace accents, including a cute little ruffle in her honey-colored hair. Looped around one lacy wrist was a feather duster.
“You wouldn’t!” she pleaded half-seriously, her earlier bravado vanishing.
“Look around you…” shot back Sharon, sweeping her arm in a circle that encompassed the frozen figures of Jenny, Esme, and most of the other mannequin figures posed randomly around the small room. “It’s his job… to freeze you,” she concluded, quoting an old movie. Flink played his part too, turning towards Danica with the control box at the ready.
“OK, you win,” she conceded. “I won’t give you any more attitude, but just don’t turn me into a dummy again. Especially not in this kinky getup!” she finished with a grin.
Flink lowered the control box.
Danica continued, “So, where the frack am I?”
Flink replied, “That be a long story. Liking some alcohol?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
* * *
“Bastard!” she spat, several minutes and the better part of a liter of vodka later. “Motherfucker. I finally had the guts to tell Aldo I was having nothing to do with his hare-brained schemes. He had this half-ass notion to turn models into mannequins and sell them to stores. I saw some of the test pictures he did with some stupid bimbos…”
“Hey!” shot back Sharon, “One of those ‘bimbos’ was me.”
“No offense meant, lady, you were a victim too. Anyway, I told him that was the goddamn stupidest thing I ever heard and how applying SAF technology was going to revolutionize medicine and space travel and, oh by the way, bankroll the foundation forever. Days later, he asked to see me for just a moment in private on our island. Must’ve zapped me then; I felt dizzy for just a moment before finding myself here with you two. I guess my big plans never happened.”
“Sorry; the newsfeed said you were lost at sea,” Sharon supplied. “But all that time you were…?”
“Probably stuck in a closet somewhere, or decorating Aldo’s bedroom,” Danica chucked ruefully. “My dimwit cousin always had a sort of crush on me. I was suspended, frozen like one of his plastic popsies. It would be just like him to keep me around as some kind of kinky trophy while he did what he damn well pleased!”
“News said Aldo went missing five years post you,” Flink supplied. “After that, things quiet down in the hitlist. Coupla items about a wax museum, whatever that is, retiring your exhibit then nothing more until deathknell of your father shortly after the copyright collapse. All remaining assets were dispersed; foundation ran out of credits. End of line for the Caslon family story. Until now.”
“Damn; I really am alone,” Danica realized, then drained her glass once more. “Wait a second; what was that you read about a wax figure of me? Is there a picture?” she brightened.
“Not here; have to crossref, lessee,” Flink muttered, concentrating. “What did this Madame Tussaud’s place do, whatever? Take a looksee– not so clear, but oldcopy…”
“Shit! Well, I never…” Danica laughed, gazing at the grainy old image. That’s one I never thought of!” Seeing the odd look from Flink and the dawning realization from Sharon, she continued, “Well, back then they would make lifelike wax statues of famous people, because s’posedly the wax looked more real, like skin. Tussaud’s was one of the best, with museums and exhibits the world wide. Presidents, movie stars, and pop singers all had their place of honor there. So, it seems, did I; hidden in plain sight. That sneaky bastard Aldo donated me to a wax museum! Or maybe he and Daddy were in cahoots; he could be such a rat at times… I recognize that dress I’m wearing in that picture as the same Cavalli that I had on the night of the party.”
“Your position is different,” Sharon mumbled, squinting at the image.
“Oh, he probably put me into pose-able mode with the SAF,” she chuckled, a little tipsy by now.
“It has modes?” Flink looked up sharply.
“’’Course. What good would itbe otherwise? Just press ‘option’ then choose what you want; poseable, limp, rigid, duration, and so on…” she explained glibly as he stared at her. “Don’cha have the guide?”
“Got lost in mail,” he covered. “You mean can just press these two buttons and…” he asked, swinging the SAF control over to point at Sharon.
“Now, wait a sec—” Her voice cut off as he pressed the button. She froze in place, mouth open, but her skin was not as shiny as before.
“Hmm,” Flink observed as he reached over and lifted up one of Sharon’s stiff arms; it remained in place when he released his grip. He moved her other hand to rest on her hip. She had become poseable like an articulated doll. “That be gonzo handy for dressing my mannequins…”
Danica stifled a snicker, as her mind had come up with far more exploitive sexual uses for the option. Best not to give him any fresh ideas…
“But, why are you telling all this?” Flink smiled; he had connected the dots quickly enough on his own. He aimed the SAF at Danica once more. She knew she was moments from becoming a love doll.
“Uh, because I wanted to talk to you about something that I need you to trust me on. Figured the best way to do that is give you some useful information. Now, about that proposition…”
“Hold one – she canna hear us, can she?” He glanced over at Sharon.
“No; when you’re frozen but poseable, you’re still out. Better to make sure. Rigid-freeze her.”
Flink changed the setting and pointed the device back at Sharon, who turned plastic-stiff and hard once more. It was easy to think of her as ‘Tiffany’ again when she looked so much like a mannequin. “Okay.”
“So, what I wanted to ask is how I can get off this rock and back to Earth?” Suddenly she sounded a whole lot less drunk as well.
“What you meaning?” Flink’s eyebrow raised.
“I know we’re off-planet and that a lot more than a hundred years have gone by.”
“Little things, like the way the air smells strange; processed. And the odd gravity when I turn my head; that’s not normal either. Reminds me of my trip to the space station a few months ago. Oh, and that fancy worktable computer rig you have isn’t exactly off the shelf in my time, either. Plus, you use strange words with an odd accent. I figure three hundred years or more. How close am I?”
“Not bad; only two-thirty though, with dateswitch to Mars scheme. You be quite a bright lassy.”
“Thanks, for what good that did me; I still didn’t out-think cousin Aldo. But that’s in the past; what we have to do is in the here and now and it involves some travel. Are you interested in an adventure?”
“Me? I’m settled here; I have my life and…”
“…and your collection of fantasy girlfriends, along with your sheltered existence!”
“Having a real girl friend, she right over there,” he pointed to Esme, standing silently and still in the grouping of display figures near Jenny. In her mannequinized condition, she didn’t look very real.
“Not very challenging, I think, Mister Flink,” she smiled. “She seems much like your hobby girls right now. How about a change? Up for a little space journey? You can pack her as luggage, if you want,” Danica said wryly, glancing over at Sharon. “And this one too, if you like...”
“I have dinna credits…” he protested, weakly.
“Leave that to me,” she said obscurely. “Even though I’ve been gone for a long long time, there are some sources of funds that aren’t tied to my name or my family. I need to make some phone calls first, then we wait for things to be set in motion. What’s the world-code or whatever for Earth, anyway?”
“Zero-zero-zero-one,” Flink answered matter-of-factly. “Terran central.”
“Super. Now, I’m assuming you’re in. Here’s how we’re going to work it…” Danica stated, in charge once more as she laid out her ideas.
* * *
End For Now