by Cobalt Jade
Plastica glanced up from her workdesk long enough to discover which cell phone was ringing, then grabbed it with her free hand. "Hello?" Plastica said, barely remembering to soften her voice into the Paula Jean's sexy southern drawl.
"Paula, it's me," Kate Spolington said. "I got your message when I came in this morning and yes, I did look. That mannequin by the dungeon is gone. I looked all over the store, and it isn't there."
Fools, Plastica thought. She couldn't help grinning, though the implications -- that Team Paragon was aware of the connection between her, Sexateria, and their missing teammate -- were serious ones. She was sure they'd broken in last night, though they'd left no trace of it, to rescue their teammate; and what a surprise they were going to get! "Well, keep lookin' honey," she said, using her other hand to solder two wires together. "I may be in later in the day. Watch the store for me."
The call finished, she finished her soldering, then snapped the panel shut. She hefted the heavy weapon onto her shoulder, feeling like a female version of The Terminator. It was good within a range of ten yards, shooting a compressed stream of gas that plasticized the victim within seconds. If Team Paragon came snooping around here, she was more than ready for them.
"Hey, watch that," Phanxine squealed.
"Relax," Plastica said. Phanxine was very pretty, but too short to make a good mannequin, though Plastica entertained notions of it sometimes. Unlike Iza, Phanxine didn't rate too highly in the brains department. Plastica targeted her through the viewfinder, wondering how well her coffee-and-cream skin would keep its tone once she was plasticized. "Find me a victim. I want to test this baby out."
"What about Plastic Fantastic? We're supposed to set up the new office on Fairfax today."
Shit, Plastica thought. She'd forgotten completely about the would-be models they'd taken such pains to schedule. She still hadn't finished processing the first batch of Plastic Fantastic mannequins; they were stacked head to crotch in piles ten high at the rear of the factory, waiting for wigs, paint jobs, and buffing. "Thanks for reminding me." She put the gun down; she'd have to test it later. "Where's Iza and Tiger?"
"They're already there. Tiger's installing the showers."
Plastica coiled her long electric-blue hair into a bun on the back of her head, keeping it there with pins. She pulled Vi Nyll's wig over her scalp, smoothing it at her hairline with her fingers. "I want you to go there too to keep an eye out for the cops. My source at LAPD told me they might be on to us. Some of those girls were reported missing."
Phanxine left, muttering rebellion. Plastica ground her teeth. She didn't need any insubordination from her staff. She finished dressing in the Vi Nyll suit, then stood before a mirror to mold her facial features. She made her cheekbones a little higher, her chin more pointed; her tits were not the only things that were made out of plastic. When she had finished Vi Nyll stood before the mirror in all her glory; only the sharpest observer could detect any resemblance between Vi and Polly, or Vi and Paula Jean.
The Xenon mannequin watched her mutely. Stripped of the bondage gear and wig she looked no different from the dozens of other mannequins in the factory.
"Your friends will never find you, you know," Plastica said. "I expect they're discovering their mistake right now." She studied the wide, expressionless eyes, searching for a reaction. There wasn't any. She began to feel a bit stupid for talking to a hunk of plastic, even if had been a human being once.
She gave the stand a sharp kick with her boot, sending it rolling away from her. It trundled backwards down a low ramp, coming to rest between an old crates and a stack of fluorescent light fixtures. It could very well stay there for decades, cobwebbed, forgotten.
Plastica smirked. Of course, she could always recycle it...
She opened the Yellow Pages, looking for firms that rented heavy industrial equipment. Punch presses, sheet metal benders, pipe extruders... plastic grinders.
She lifted the phone.
It wasn't Shana.
It had Shana's legs, Shana's skin, Shana's breasts, but when they removed the hood... it was someone else.
Cinnabar threw the hood down, stricken. Why hadn't they checked in the store to be sure! Shana could still be there, hidden in a closet somewhere... that is, if Plastica hadn't decided to get rid of her first. "They've made a switch, obviously," she said quietly.
"Are you sure?" Gina said.
Lori nodded. "Look at the face. And the mannequin we saw had writing on the top of its head. This one has a number." She looked up, flint in her eyes. "Guys, we have to go back. To find out what they've done with the real Shana, at least."
Cinnabar knew it would be impossible to do another search of the store during operating hours. Besides, they'd searched the place from top to bottom and hadn't seen another Shana. She rubbed her eyes, steeling herself, and made the decision. "No. Gang, we need to regroup. We can't go back to the store today."
"But -- " Lori interrupted.
"No." Cinnabar kept her tone firm. Her eyes flicked to the rest of the Team, telling Lori the decision was final. "What else did you find out last night?"
"I got Paula Jean's phone number, license plate, and address," Noelani said. "Here are the digital images I took of her desk."
Cinnabar flipped them through. They were mostly office memos, take-out menus, and the like. But one scrawled list of numbers looked familiar. "Gina, what's the number on this mannequin's scalp?"
"W-BL03-F1-006." Gina read.
"That's this one right here," Cinnabar said, pointing with her finger. "This must be a list of serial numbers." She looked back at the mannequin. "Both numbers written on the scalp, in black felt-tip marker... in the same hand too, I'd guess, going by the writing on this list."
"It's very lifelike," Lori said, swallowing. "As lifelike as Shana was."
"I'd like to do a probe," Allison said quietly.
"Be my guest," Cinnabar said, though they all had some idea of the awful truth that was slowly becoming clear to them. Allison pressed her fingertips to the mannequin's shiny plastic scalp and closed her eyes. Her lips parted as she began her telepathic probe; as White Rose, it was one of her most useful powers. For ten long minutes she concentrated, her expression changing only slightly. Finally she withdrew her hands and staggered, nearly slumping to the floor.
"I'm all right," she said, weakly, as Lori and Gina helped her up.
"Get her some water," Cinnabar said.
Noelani handed her a cup. Allison took several sips, before flicking her hair out of her eyes and speaking. "She's alive," she said bluntly.
"Fuckin' sh -- " Gina began, then remembered herself.
"The process Plastica used changed the chemical structure of her body the same way Gina can change hers, except she can't change herself back. She's aware of things, but her mind is trapped in a sort of stasis, a dream state." She took another sip. "I was able to read her memories." She went on. The mannequin's name had been Aubrey Cantrell, and she had been a hopeful model. She'd sent some headshots to the La Cienego address within hours after she saw the ad in Variety. The agency turned out to be Plastic Fantastic... the same one Gina's policeman boyfriend had investigated.
Cinnabar listened with deepening shock as Allison described Vi Nyll and her assistants, the photoshoot, the showers. After being mannequinized Aubrey had been taken to a warehouse where she'd been stacked on the floor with dozens of others. Paula Jean Estes had picked her out of the pile yesterday afternoon and taken her to Sexateria, where she'd been dressed in Xenon's clothes. Then a merchandising assistant had wheeled her to the dungeon while Paula Jean took Shana away.
"Where did Plastica take her?" Cinnabar asked.
Allison shook her head. "I don't know."
"I bet they're the same person," Gina muttered. "Paula Jean and Plastica. And Vi Nyll, too, going by the name. Those women aren't missing at all -- they got turned into mannequins! They're probably all warehoused in Plastica's mannequin factory, waiting to be auctioned, or sold, or... or... Cinnabar, we have to do something! There has to be some kind of antidote!"
Cinnabar rubbed her temples. The scope of this investigation had widened, and the price of failure higher than they all knew. She wanted forget about the horrible mistake she'd made. But if she hadn't taken the wrong mannequin, they wouldn't have found out as much as they did. "Here's what I want you to do," she said. "Lori, Noelani, I want you to stake out Paula Jean's condo. Take breaks to rest if you have to. Don't break and enter, only watch. I want to know for sure if Paula Jean is Plastica in disguise. Allison, after you've had some rest I want you to go back to Sexateria and see if you can pick up on the staff's thoughts. They may know where Shana was taken. But be careful. If Paula Jean and Plastica are the same person, she may be on to us. Don't take any more risks than you have to. "
She turned towards Gina. "Gina, our job is going to be the most fun. We're going through the help wanted sections and all the latest talent guides, looking for that ad. With any luck, we may be able to find out where Vi Nyll will strike next."
"Gotcha," Gina said. She wheeled the Aubrey mannequin to a corner and draped a blanket over it.
Far across the Atlantic Kylasha the Damned kept court on her island, a tortured volcanic nipple on the blue-green breast of the Aegean Sea. Tall, severe, and ageless, and inhumanly beautiful, a mixture of all human races and none: that was Kylasha.
She wasn't known to the world by that name of course. In the modern age, she was Countess Kayla Medea Pantaglios, and her villa was equipped with computers and DVD players, microwaves and satellite dishes; she had a helicopter and a Mercedes she used for tooling about on the mainland. She loved modern conveniences, though she herself was by no means modern. She was over ten thousand years old, though she had spent most of them in suspended animation deep within the earth. Until an archaeological student named Cinnabar Steele had freed her... and then, as Scirocco, had tried to kill her.
Kylasha frowned at the memory. Though she was a Countess (and she had labored long and hard to falsify the records for it) that was nothing compared to the power she once held as a sorcerer-queen in her native land of Bubabis. A title she intended to reclaim, one day... as soon as all the pieces of the Sword of Screams were brought together. She had found three, but Scirocco had taken one of them from her eight years ago, when her hideout in Stuttgart had gone up in flames. Though she'd taken a wicked revenge on Scirocco before that happened.
Nonetheless, she'd been bested by a mortal. And Kylasha the Damned did not take that easily.
She hadn't the resources for vengeance right now, which was why she had tapped Plastica for the job; if she lived up to her promise Kylasha would take her under her wing. There was more than one dirty job she could do for the Countess and her organization.
She ran her beringed hand over a polished marble plinth the height of her waist. Scirocco would go there, she decided. On a slowly revolving stand, with spotlights. Nude, of course. Kylasha always appreciated beautiful things, no matter how deadly and vexing they were. If the pose was erotic, so much the better.
She took a seat in the silk-upholstered armchair, loosened her robe, and signaled to the two naked slaves waiting by the door. She kept a pair in every room to serve her needs. The young man had once been an American college student hitchhiking around Ireland, the young woman a nanny from Austria, but now they were only extensions of her will and lived only to please her. She nodded at the Siberian tiger skin in front of her. The two slaves knelt on the fur and embraced, then began to do what sex slaves do best, for their Mistress's entertainment.
She lifted the phone, stroking herself between the thighs. Time to check on Plastica.
"This is more boring than watching paint dry," Lori complained. They'd been here all day and seen nothing, and it was growing cramped in Noelani's tiny Hyundai. Now it was evening and the condo's windows were still dark.
"Remember we're doing this for Shana," Noelani reminded her.
Lori sighed. She could think of better uses for their time if they wanted to find Shana and help those girls. They could go back to Sexateria and ask some questions, or try to track where Vi Nyll and her operation had disappeared to. Even a raid on the mannequin factory would have been more productive. She took another sip of Diet Snapple, suddenly noticing a little red sports car tearing down the drive.
"Get down!" Noelani hissed. They ducked their heads as the car screeched past them, making a right-angle turn into Paula Jean's garage. Lori raised her head a fraction of an inch. The figure that slammed the door was neither Plastica or Paula Jean; it was Vi Nyll, going by Allison's description of the agent's outlandish clothes and short red hair. Vi Nyll clipped purposefully up the walk and unlocked the door. She vanished inside.
"We've got to check this out," Lori said, poking her teammate's shoulder.
"Cinnabar said no break-ins," Noelani warned.
"Who said anything about breaking in? I only want to get a better view." Before her teammate could stop her she slipped out of the car, running in back of a hedge to transform herself -- "Team Paragon, Arctica!" -- and blasted off into the night like an icy arrow shot from a bow.
She didn't go far. She circled the complex and landed on the roof above Paula Jean's condo. Lights were snapping on below her as Vi Nyll made herself at home. There was a skylight in the ceiling and Lori floated over to peer cautiously over the edge. Vi Nyll paced restlessly below her as she undressed, leaving her clothes where they fell. Lori gasped as she ripped off her wig, revealing a long shock of bright blue hair... Plastica!
There were three other wigs waiting on the dresser, one of them a mirror copy of Polly Jean's Hillary Clinton 'do. Lori had already been certain the three were the same. She continued to watch as Plastica stripped down to her panties, then stood naked before the mirror and started squeezing her breasts. Lori was shocked to realize she was molded them, forming them into a new shape. Plastica did the same thing with her facial features, then gave her ass a slight shake and it, too, rearranged, like the side of a plastic garbage can popping back after a denting.
Then the phone rang suddenly, and Plastica flung herself across the bed, displaying her inhumanly lithe body to its best advantage.
Lori started as Blue Cymbidium -- Noelani -- suddenly appeared at her side, her blue and purple costume making her almost invisible against the night sky. "I couldn't let you stay here alone," she whispered. She handed Lori a phone tap.
"Thanks." Lori fitted the stethoscope-like device into her ears, pressing it against the plexiglass of the skylight.
"...of course I haven't forgotten about you, Countess," Plastica was saying. "My people are working on it, they're there right now. They know her routine. Uh-huh. Of course. I can accommodate you in that. My process is *very* flexible." She flipped herself onto her back. Not even models had breasts that large and protuberant, or legs so decadently long. She must have had bone grafts on her shins, Lori thought. But Plastica was no catwalk darling. Taut muscle moved like whips under her flawless ivory skin, and her legs snapped like a pair of giant scissors. Then came the words Lori dreaded to hear: "... Cinnabar will be yours, delivered by the end of the week, I guarantee it."
"She's going to kill Cinnabar!" Lori said in a shocked whisper. "She's got something set up!"
But Plastica wasn't finished. She must have had call waiting because she immediately answered another: "Oh? It is? I'm on my way." She slammed down the receiver, then began to dress again with jaw-dropping speed.
"I've got to warn her!" Lori said. Noelani looked unsure, her eyes flickering under her petalike blue mask. She never was one to make snap decisions, Lori knew, and that might let her have her way now. "There's no point in us being here anymore, Blue. We know who Vi Nyll really is -- and she must have found out who Team Paragon is, too."
"Right," Noelani said. Her eyes said she knew the implications. "You warn Cinn. I'll keep watch here, in case Plastica comes back."
The front door slammed as Plastica left the condo clad in a skintight neoprene minidress. The sports car pulled out of the garage with a screech. Lori had already overtaken it, flying toward the library where Gina and Cinnabar were working.
"Look at this. This has to be the one," Gina said. She unfolded the paper so Cinnabar could see.
"Models wanted," Cinnabar read, brushing her long red hair behind her ear. "For start-up agency. No experience necessary. Lingerie, sportswear, swimsuits. Send resumes, head and body shots to 4111 Fairfax, Los Angeles, by overnight mail for immediate consideration." She put the paper down, recalling the wording of Plastica's last ad. "Not much of a copywriter, is she?"
"We've got time to check it out tonight," Gina said hopefully. "It's only ten o'clock."
"If you want to drive by, that's fine, but this is really a job for the Team," Cinnabar said. "Can you think of a way to delay the opening for a day or two, though?"
"Shut off the electricity?" Gina said.
"Now you're talking." Cinnabar grinned. "I was thinking of a water main rupture, myself. Or a sewer line break. That would be appropriate." She yawned. "God, I've got to get some sleep. I think I'm going to head back to HQ. Since you're up to it, check out the address, and if it is Plastic Fantastic, create what inconveniences you can. But be extra careful. Plastica may be on to us by now. She could be watching."
Gina gave a mock salute. "Aye, Chief."
Cinnabar left the library for the balmy heat of an LA night. She would have enjoyed it more, but she was tired. She wasn't as young as she used to be. Gina and Lori had the youthful energy to stay up all night, for two or three days if needed; she didn't. Not that she still didn't turn heads... she gave a smile to the parking lot attendant as she drove out in her purple Mazda. He reminded her a little of her college boyfriend, Michael. They would have gotten married, if she hadn't opened Kylasha's tomb that fateful summer, if she'd decided to leave the tomb to the experts and not a naive archaeological student who thought she knew everything...
She shook her head; she'd driven right past the cash machine she always used to deposit her checks from the Near East Institute. She parked her car and went to the walk-up window, extracting her ATM card from her wallet. She fed it into the slot. It went in halfway, then stopped.
"What is this," she muttered. The card seemed to be stuck. She gripped it with her fingers, but it wouldn't budge, either inwards or outwards. Her fingertips touched a metal plate on the inside of the mechanism.
Her mouth stretched in a silent scream as thousands of volts of electricity suddenly surged through her body. The world went dark around her, and she fell like a stone under the neon-lit palms.
This story is copyrighted 2002 by Cobalt Jade (Cobaltjade@aol.com). This work
may be freely distributed over electronic media provided no fee is charged for
its use. Charging a fee for this story, or publishing without author credit
or this notice violates my copyright.