I started to say something but a familiar crackle interrupted. I dropped the box and pulled out the panic button. Jabbed the button so hard I broke a fingernail. The ball of lightening was right in the entryway. Tiffany's door slammed, and I bolted for my room as well. Locked it and shoved the chair up against it, and ran to the window, which looked down on a sheer three story drop. I'd trapped myself. Maybe there was still time. I jerked the chair away, and flung myself through the door. If I could climb down to the next balcony...
A black and shiny metal monster aimed a gun at me. I backpedaled and hit a wall. That wasn't a fancy ocular over his right eye, it was a fancy ocular in place of his right eye. Half of what I'd thought was armor seemed to be attached permanently. Cyborg soldiers.
One of them crashed through Tiffany's door, and pulled her out, tossed her to the cyborg standing in front of the lightening door. His grinned, showing half metal teeth, and shoved Tiff against the table. One real looking hand grabbed a breast, the other grabbed the back of her hair. He leaned to kiss her.
The cyborg jerked away and waved a hand through the air between them, saying something growlly that I didn't understand.
Saved by the bad breath!
Or not, the door crasher cyborg grabbed Tiff and shoved her through the lightening door. I started to jump, then shrank back. That gun was still pointed right at me. "What are you going to do to Tiff? Why do you want her?"
The not-rapist answered. "Ve'll give her ze greatest honor, and that Vizard will come for her. Tell him that he hass ten days, if he comes lookink for her." He turned and walked through the lightening hole, and the one with the gun pointed at me backed away through it. It closed down and went away, leaving the odor of ozone behind.
Two Federal agents barreled through the door, through the space the lightening ball had occupied.
"Too late." I lowered my hands. "Call and see if they've grabbed Brian."
By the time I'd told all, they had processed the recordings from the little spy cameras they'd put all over the apartment. Without my knowledge, I might add.
Hawkins listened to the cyborg. "Nehmen Sie sie an das Labor. Dann werden wir die Köder fangen."
Ugg. I still didn't understand it. "Is that German? What is he saying?"
"Take her to the laboratory. Then we'll bait the trap." His nose wrinkled adorably. "It sounds like they really want your Eldon."
I nodded. "I thought he'd come back for the horse. They must think the same, plus they're picking up a bit of extra insurance. Ten days! We have to find them!"
He bit his lip and nodded. "God knows how."
While the scientists did their thing, I retreated to my room and got on the internet.
A search for "ball lightening" got me a bulletin board full of UFO believers. I registered and asked if anyone had seen anything even vaguely along the line of ball lightening in the last week. Hey, a bunch of paranoid fruitcakes was more likely to notice, and not shrug off or forget any sort of strange stuff.
I sorted through heaps of references, most too old, the other's not sounding anything like these lightening doorways. I didn't sleep very well. I was back at it as soon as I woke. The fruitcakes had one sighting that sounded likely, and some people camping out in the woods pretending to be Knights and stuff had another. This cute little resort town up in the mountains had a third. I decided that was enough for a start. I talked to Dr. Jamison about how to tell if one of those balls had opened someplace recently. He provided me with a geiger counter.
"Their environment is contaminated. Not badly, but the dirt on their feet carries enough that a very sensitive machine like this will detect where one of them has walked."
Tiffany whimpered as the cyborg dragged her through the ball of lightening. The room on the other side was all concrete, metal, and glass a huge circular room reaching up into the dimness. It was night, outside the half circle of windows. And not enough interior light to turn them into mirrors. In the moonlight the trees out there looked as eerie as the metal inside. There were stairs up to a railed balcony a couple of floors up. The thing holding her let her get her feet under her before hauling her up the stairs. He pulled her along, around about a third of the circumference of the room, then turned down a dim hallway.
She tried for bravado. "You guys need to replace some lightbulbs."
He shoved her up against the wall and rubbed himself on her. The lump of the armor protecting his crotch may him seem aroused. Maybe he was.
"Get away from me!"
He backed up a step, her breath was that bad. He jerked her back into motion. "We don't need as much light as you pathetic Naturals."
"Pathetic? Gee, I thought I turned you on. What are girl cyborgs like, eh? Ugly as you?"
He shoved her through a doorway and into a small square room. With a bed in the middle and mechanical things hanging on a swivel arm above.
Bravado again. "My dentist has a scarier setup than that." The quavery voice probably ruined the effect.
Another tall guy walked in. Older, from the wrinkles in his skin, what showed of it. He was in a white lab coat, instead of armor. He had a mechanical eye, and stuff on his hands, though. He spoke some foreign language, German, maybe? The first one replied with an emphatic "Nyet!" and more gibberish. Nyet was Russian, wasn't it? The doctor-cyborg laughed.
The two of them grabbed her arms and lifted her to the table, forced her flat and strapped her down. Then the one in armor left her to Dr. Borg.
"Zo, you have zuch bad breath even the zoldiers von't rape you? That won't save you from you duty to the Ubermensch." He turned his back on her, pecking at a computer.
"Over . . . supermen? Oh, please, you're half mechanical, what's so superior about that?"
"That is juzt the augmentation." His ocular whirled out as he looked her up and down. "Hmm, yez. A new prototype we have developed. You will do well." He pulled the arm down from the ceiling and exposed a spinning blade. "We're naturally superior due to genetic engineering. We live twice your span, we're stronger, faster, smarter. Don't worry, this won't cut human flesh, it's just to get those hideous clothes out of the way so I can examine you."
It was a very thorough exam. Tiffany tried to imagine Prissy's reaction to it. Probably some remark about the cute doctors never being so thorough. She gave it a try, and got a dozen IV fluids in return. Halfway through it a female nurse-borg showed up with a small cart, and helped him with the worse cervical exam she'd ever had.
"Jeeze, a straight-out rape would be less painful, what the hell are you doing down there?"
They ignored her, but they did finish quickly.
Then the proctologic exam.
"You taking lessons from UFOs?"
After that she got force fed something nasty, and apparently the exam was done.
"Hope you take Blue Cross Blue Shield."
The armored Borg came back, or maybe it was a different one, and the straps were released. And she was hauled—bare-assed naked—down a maze of corridors and into a glass cage.
Brian was in the next cage over. He was wearing a natty ensemble, glow-in-the-dark-green shirt and pants. The only furniture in the cage was a narrow cot. She grabbed the folded pile of glow-in-the-dark-green, and dressed quickly. Brian had his head turned away just enough to seem polite. She hoped he'd liked the view from the corner of his eye. Then she burst into tears. Who cared about politeness? She collapsed on the cot end nearest him and leaned on the glass.
"Can you hear me?"
She nodded. "I can't believe this is happening."
"Me neither. I even got an anal probe, like some stupid UFO abduction. You don't think they're actually . . . "
She shook her head. "No. Under all the metal they're human. I think they speak Russian."
"Mixed up with German, and a few other words that are something else." Brian sighed, leaning on his side of the glass. "I learned German in High School. And I tried Russian, once, in college. I dropped out fast. Horrible language, doesn't even use the right alphabet." He sighed again. "Do you have any idea who this Eldon person is?"
"Some weirdo Prissy took to. She says he can do magic. She said she had him put a magic spell on us. Bad Breath for me, baldness for you. She says it temporary, but it's saved me from at least two rapes, so I hope it doesn't wear off too fast."