Travelling through the colossal playing field, five brand-new contestants press forward in tight formation. A few of them are hopeful winners, lured by the massive jackpot and the notoriety, while a couple of them seem to have intensely personal reasons for competing in the harrowing event, called simply Pure Adrenaline. Their journey began in a mysterious forest full of massive trees and curious wildlife. Hacking their way through the lush undergrowth, they soon began to reach an expansive green clearing.
Wearing a brilliant yellow mini-skirt and a snug, white halter-top, a slim girl turns to her commander as they approach the grassy field. “Commander Delilah, should we head through there?” asked the delicate waif while thumbing through her pocket organizer. “With a surface area of nearly twenty square miles, I don’t believe the terrain will offer the same discrete ground cover that these trees do, but we should be able to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.” Looking up from her detailed map, she studied her fair-skinned commander with devoted admiration as she waited for a decision.
“That’s a good question, Lieutenant Ursula,” said the strong-willed commander thoughtfully. “I don’t know about the rest of you, ladies, but I’m tired of trudging through this thick underbrush.” Seeing the eager expression on Ursula’s delicate face, the brunette commander could easily see her assistant’s affirmative stance regarding the soft grass field. Turning to the rest of her enthusiastic crew, she asked plainly, “What do the rest of you think?”
Nodding slowly, a stunning lady with vivid green eyes replied, “I agree with you, Commander Delilah. I think it’s worth the risk, especially considering the short amount of time we’ll need to get across.”
“Okay, Lady Jasmine. How about you, Hera?” Turning to a stunning lady with a short haircut, she waited patiently for her Grecian ally to offer her opinion.
“I don’t see a major risk,” replied the dark-skinned beauty as she batted her deep, brown eyes. Calmly sizing up the meager challenge in front of her, she seemed to be relieved that the fetid forest would soon be only a memory.
“So that’s two more votes for the easy path,” said a grateful Commander Delilah. “So, Niko, that leaves you. How do you think we should proceed?”
Pausing a moment to study the sunlit clearing, the young, blonde adventurer contemplated her decision for a brief moment. “I know the path ahead doesn’t seem too perilous,” stated the vivacious lady. “However, we should still be extremely cautious. I know this field appears harmless, but we’ll be vulnerable if we let down our guard, even for just a brief moment.”
“Good assessment, Niko,” said Commander Delilah proudly. Turning to the entire crew, she asked excitedly, “So, we’re all unanimous then?” As her brave crew nodded their approval, she steadied her backpack then led her troops through the serene-looking glade.
With fluttering butterflies and pleasant, chirping birds, all five ladies relaxed as they traveled, savoring the splendor of the tranquil natural environment. Still maintaining a vigorous pace, they all scanned the distance in search of potential adversaries and traps as they walked. A gentle breeze stirred the meadow beneath their feet, sending the delicate blades in motion like calming waves of water. For several hours, they journeyed along the blissful path; each of them privately hoping the peaceful setting would last forever.
Suddenly, the multitude of gossamer wings flapped urgently away, finding shelter in the distant trees. The variety of birdcalls also began to fall silent unexpectedly, leaving a chilly silence in the air. The adventuring excursion team quickly began to search the horizon in earnest, hoping the timid creatures were merely imagining the threatening situation they so desperately seemed to flee.
A persistent humming sound now began to drift in from behind their position, slowly becoming more pronounced as it seemed to approach. Turning to face the growing commotion, Commander Delilah suddenly let out a cry as she spotted a hovercraft gliding swiftly towards them. “Oh, God!” she yelled frantically. “Hurry, everyone! Run for those trees!”
The five women started running at a full clip towards the many trees dotting the horizon, yet the unknown craft still gained on them at an incredible speed. No longer a distant threat, Niko could plainly see one occupant in the driver’s seat wearing shimmering black vinyl from head to toe. “Hello, ladies,” mocked the aggressive voice behind the controls. “My name is Plastique.” Suddenly, a pink laser beam fired from the mysterious machine, striking Lieutenant Ursula square in the back. The faithful field operator abruptly screamed in agony as her pumping legs began to slow then stop completely. Her now motionless legs began to develop a glimmering sheen as her voice suddenly fell silent. “You’ll soon be able to guess why I’m called Plastique, but I like to think it’s because I have such an explosive personality.” Quickly firing a flaming blast from a mounted cannon, the malicious dominatrix effectively halted the team’s hasty retreat, sending chunks of burning sod flying.
Now with their path completely blocked, the fleeing women turned to face their wicked adversary. Also directly within their line of sight was poor Lieutenant Ursula, who seemed to be changing right before their darting eyes. Still held motionless by the laser blast, her face held a look of pure horror as her flesh seemed to lock relentlessly in place by a mysterious force. Accompanying the glossy physical change was a haunting sound that terrified each of them as they feebly stood there, completely unable to save her. It was an odd, eerie sound, not unlike the sound of two balloons being rubbed together, only louder and more threatening. As the shiny surge began to harden Ursula’s slim arms and neck, her terrified face began to change its horrific expression. The delicate facial muscles began to slacken, replacing the painful shock with a calm look of contentment. Then, the plastic gloss began to pulse up her delicate face, sealing her precious features forever. Her affectionate brown eyes began to glaze over, the wet tissue quickly becoming glass as they formed perfect marbles cemented inside her rigid face. Within moments, the warm and bubbly Lieutenant Ursula was replaced by a cold mannequin, rendered flawlessly in plastic and fiberglass.
Before anyone could react to the ghastly demise of Lieutenant Ursula, another shot rang out, the intense pink beam cutting through the balmy air. This time, Commander Delilah felt the hot force of the laser as it struck her exposed right thigh. “Pleased to meet you, Commander,” joked the sarcastic scoundrel as she watched her target begin to slow. With her arms awkwardly posed defensively in front of her, Delilah only made a faint peep sound as she stood enraptured by the hardening sensation welling within her helpless body. Soon, her pale legs also began to glow as they coagulated, her soft flesh quickly becoming replaced by rigid plastic.
“In fact, why don’t all of you stick around for a while?” shouted the impatient lady, as she fired three more shots at the stunned crew. In quick succession, the beams swiftly landed, throwing pink light across the green field. Immediately satisfied with her depraved efforts, the fiend named Plastique spun her craft around. As she sped away, she shouted to her captive victims, “Thanks for showing me such a fun time, ladies! Don’t go changing on me, now!” Slowly, the loud drone of the engines began to fall silent as the hovercraft rapidly disappeared into the distance.
Stunned and paralyzed with fear, Niko watched her companions as they solidified into polished store mannequins. From every direction she could hear the escalating sound of hardening flesh as her friends swiftly surrendered to plastic. Believing her time was also running short, she thought to herself woefully, ‘I’m sorry I failed you, sister.’ As the wave of shiny plastic rolled across the still figures of her friends, Niko found herself wishing she could help them somehow, yet she knew she couldn’t. After witnessing the shocking metamorphosis of her entire crew, she waited timidly for her own transformation to freeze her, but the tightening sensations never came. Slowly, she turned her throbbing head from side to side, thoroughly amazed by her unexpected mobility. Quickly, she examined the spot where the laser struck, then sighed in relief. Pulling a golden locket from around her neck, she studied the precious object in her trembling hand. Seeing a tiny burn etched onto the reflective, heart-shaped surface, she instantly concluded that the shot meant for her ricocheted off her necklace instead.
After pressing the tiny button on the side of the locket, she slowly
studied the dear photograph of her missing sister. “Looks like you
saved me again, Rebecca,” moaned Niko gratefully.
Laughing maniacally, the not-too-distant man with the huge weapon replied, “I want retribution, Magnum! Mere words won’t replace what you’ve taken from me!” Firing a bolt from his gun to punctuate his enraged statement, the stranger panted as he struggled to maintain pace with the burly sergeant. The terrain started to become more lush and dense with foliage, and the pursuer suddenly tripped over one of the creeping vines running across the dark soil. As the madman toppled to the ground, his firearm suddenly discharged, launching a wild fireball into the air. Screaming as it flew, the shot impacted into a tree right next to Sergeant Magnum. Searing pain shot through Sergeant Magnum’s right leg as shards of shrapnel and splinters of wood pierced his knee and thigh. Hobbling to temporary safety behind a massive tree, Sergeant Magnum struggled to halt the flow of blood by tying a bandana around his throbbing leg. Trying to remain silent, Magnum bit his tongue as he tried to ignore the burning pain shooting through his injured leg.
Dusting himself off as he picked himself up, the raging Nil Corporation agent scanned the horizon, searching for his prey. Following the path of destruction silently, his eyes spotted several crimson puddles on the ground, near the decimated tree. “Looks like I got you, Magnum!” screamed the enraged man as he stuck his fingers into the warm blood at his feet. Walking around the immediate area, he eventually discovered a trail of blood leading behind a thick oak tree. Creeping up slowly, he pounced from around the corner, hoping to surprise his injured enemy. Shocked to find only another pool of blood and a small piece of paper, he reached down to grab the tiny note. Scrawled in blood, the message stated simply, “Not dead yet!”
After confirming that her levitator was fully charged, she aimed the device at her unmoving friend and pulled the trigger. Again, a bright blue light bathed the clear sculpture in its eerie glow, which pulsed up and down her hardened body. Carefully adjusting the controls, Lieutenant Godiva gently lifted the statue of Petula up until it hovered about three feet off the ground. Steadying her tired legs under her heavy gear, she slowly walked forward towards the rocky cave that would protect her fallen ally.
The path twisted as it sloped upwards, so Godiva took every step gingerly to ensure safe passage for her helpless friend. She wasn’t sure if Lady Petula could be damaged in her hardened state, but she didn’t want to find out by accidentally dropping her friend on the rocky ground. With her attention focused on the bumpy soil beneath her feet, she stopped in her tracks as a long afternoon shadow loomed along the path. Grabbing her paralysis staff with her free hand, she steadied herself as she waited for the figure behind the shadow to be revealed. Slowly, a thin and attractive woman armed with a phaser tiptoed around the corner. Seeing the threat to herself and her helpless teammate, Lieutenant Godiva couldn’t afford to take any chances. Once in full view, Lieutenant Godiva wasted no time in firing a paralysis bolt from her staff. The white shot landed where intended, freezing the stranger in her tracks.
Finding a level spot nearby, Lieutenant Godiva slowly lowered the crystalline statue that had once been the energetic Lady Petula to the ground. Then she walked up to the paralyzed stranger, hoping to find some answers. Looking deep into her face, Lieutenant Godiva could see a look of pure shock captured on the new arrival’s delicate facial features. Her eyes were as wide as saucers, and her lips were pressed together, almost as if she were about to say something just before she became suspended. Digging through her meager possessions, Lieutenant Godiva could find nothing sinister in the stranger’s possessions that could’ve been used against her, other than the phaser held in her unmoving right hand. Reaching a tentative hand out to the paralyzed stranger, Lieutenant Godiva was amazed by how stiff and unyielding her skin felt. Her victim almost looked like an ultra-realistic department store mannequin in her paralyzed state. As soon as Godiva saw an identification tag hanging around the inert neck of her captive, she suddenly felt guilty for inadvertently freezing another contestant like herself. ‘Hmmm,’ thought Godiva. ‘Looks like her name is Niko.’
A nagging thought began to trouble Lieutenant Godiva as she studied the still figure of Niko. Something Godiva couldn’t quite place. ‘Have I met this girl, Niko, before?’
Reversing the paralysis settings on her staff, Lieutenant Godiva crossed her fingers as she launched a regenerating beam at the stranger named Niko, hoping to return her to full mobility. The instant the beam struck the blonde adventurer, she began to re-animate. Jumping back suddenly, she shouted a belated, “Wait!” After regaining her bearings, she looked down to find a crystal statue of a woman balanced on the rocky ground. “Did you do that to her as well?” she asked wearily. Her eyes darted from side to side as she studied her surroundings. On her petite facial features, an expression of tender fear seemed to creep across her face as she holstered the phaser in her quivering hand.
“No,” replied Lieutenant Godiva. “I’m trying to protect her from Nil Corporation agents. She’s the last member of my excursion team still with me.” Offering a hand for a handshake, she began to introduce herself. “My name is Lieutenant Godiva. This statue over here is what remains of my teammate, Lady Petula. I’m terribly sorry about freezing you, but with all the scary events of the last few days, I’ve learned it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah,” said the radiant lady as she brushed out her slim garment with a trembling hand. “I feel a little disoriented, but I’m none the worse for wear. It was so strange, I could see and feel everything around me, yet I was completely powerless to move even one muscle.” Looking up suddenly, she seemed surprised by something said earlier, yet was too groggy to react previously. “Wait a second! What did you say your name was, again?”
“Godiva. Lieutenant Godiva.”
“Oh, my God!” she screamed, almost knocking Lieutenant Godiva out of her shoes. “I’ve been searching for you! My name is Jessie Anders. The name the Nil Corporation gave me is Niko.”
Godiva ran that name in her mind over and over. ‘Jessie Anders, Jessie Anders… Why does that name sound so familiar?’ Then the revelation struck her with full force, like several bricks were dropped on her gut. “Jessie Anders? Are you related to Rebecca Anders?”
“Yes! Rebecca is my sister!”
‘That’s why she looks so familiar!’ Remembering the horrible incident at the river, Lieutenant Godiva bowed her head for a moment. “So, you probably know what happened to her, then.”
A single tear began to stream down her face as she nodded yes. “That’s how they trapped me into competing in this event. Turner told me about what happened to poor Rebecca before they even televised it. He basically said if I wanted to see my sister again, I’d have to sign up for Pure Adrenaline. I told him he was lying about Rebecca, that she hadn’t been captured as a gold statue. He told me to watch the show and see it for myself.” Choking back the tears, she played the scene within her mind as she struggled to continue. “Imagine watching your little sister turning to gold in front of millions, begging for her life as her flesh becomes transmuted into lifeless metal. My mother was completely inconsolable. That’s when I realized I had to find a way to save her somehow. I called back Turner in a heartbeat and accepted his invitation. He was practically laughing as he took the call. It still makes my blood go cold just thinking about it.”
“That’s awful, Jessie,” said Godiva, trying to console the distraught woman. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to save her.”
“I know you tried,” replied a sniffling Niko. “It wasn’t your fault that it happened, it just did. Now, I’m out here in this strange wilderness searching for answers. This crazed woman named Plastique has already captured the other four members of my team. Using a strange laser weapon, she somehow transformed Hera, Lady Jasmine, Lieutenant Ursula and Commander Delilah into stiff, plastic mannequins, leaving me all alone. I don’t think I’ve ever been so saddened or frightened in all my life.”
“Well, you’re not alone now,” said Lieutenant Godiva reassuringly. “I’d be proud to welcome you as a member of my team.”
“Really?” said Niko excitedly, a smile creeping across her face for the first time. “That’s fantastic!”
Taking a few moments to fill her new teammate in on the occurrences
and discoveries of the past few days, Lieutenant Godiva also explained
what the Nil Corporation planned for them, should they also find themselves
captured. Niko shivered inside as she imagined herself frozen and
drained of energy in order to serve an alien race. ‘Poor Rebecca,’
thought Jessie to herself. ‘I’ve got to find a way to save her from
this miserable fate somehow.’
To be continued...
On to Part Five