Power Play, chapter 6

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
  • #1720

    Chapter 6
    You Bet Your Life


    I took the squeeze bottle from the attendant. "Thanks," I said dully. And as she went over to pass one to each of my competitors, I looked down at the trap door I stood on. Why didn't I see the seam down the middle before? Scanning the stage, the gallery and the club, I searched for an exit if I decided to make a break for it.

    Then I realized that they had my strength reading now, just like Big Sis. So they could drop me WITHOUT a trap door if I acted cute. Not good.

    Popping open the bottle, I squeezed the stuff down my throat. Not bad. Chantelle looked my way. "Hey, Mayberry, you gonna get cramps if you gulp it like that."

    I pointed to my feet. "Cramps aren't exactly in my top 500 worries right now."

    She nodded. "True, that."

    Vicki, meanwhile, simply sipped hers and said nothing.

    The attendant came over and picked up our empty bottles. Atalanta handed her one, too. "Just a friendly reminder," our MC announced. "If your feet leave your zone for any reason, you forfeit the game AND any strength you've earned." She touched her ear. "Game resumes in 30 seconds, folks."

    I looked at the lever and the platform. Then I brainstormed an idea that just might keep me in the game. The only hitch was I'd have to blow a question to try it out.

    Then an ominous rock riff played, and the question board showed an instant replay of Larry taking the plunge. In slow motion, his face showed no clue what was coming. "Okay, folks, we're back," said Atalanta, "but Larry isn't. So I think we'd better get to know our players a little better while they're still here. Chantelle, you're quite a long way from home. From Brooklyn, New York, right?"

    "Yeah," she replied.

    "So how're you enjoying that new muscle so far?"


    "So what'll be the first thing you'll do if you win a fully decked out body?"

    She looked a bit reminiscent and sinisterly anticipatory. "Gotta go back to Brooklyn to my mama and sister and let 'em know they don't have to stay in that Albanian 'hood anymore. And steel some of them Albo ho's, too."

    I felt some empathy for her. I had read how organized crime had rolled America's cities thanks to our police getting Zapped. But while the Italian and Russian mafias hogged the press for a while in the early days, La Cosa Nostra had already been on the ropes thanks to testimonies, the Witness Protection Program, good surveillance, and boorish, boneheaded moves by the Gotti family beforehand. And since the shriveled-up pimps and capos couldn’t slap around their hookers anymore, the resulting revolts stopped Sicily's comeback cold. The Big Zap had pretty much nailed La Cosa Nostra's coffin shut.

    But the Russians and Albanians had been much more organized and brutal. They were where the Italians and Irish were during the Roaring Twenties. And most of their "talent" had been from abroad, and thus enhanced. While many had looted their bordellos and bosses' HQs and returned home or moved to greener pastures, a good number of hardened madams and "top earners" were willful and vicious enough to pry the crowns off their former Dons' shattered skulls.

    And poor Chantelle must've been the only one lucky enough to move out of there. Why couldn't there be bonus muscle for both of us?

    "Well, more power to ya there," said Atalanta seriously. "Literally." The audience clapped, and despite the trap door under my feet, I did, too. Our hostess turned to my other opponent. "Vicki Andrews, from the city of the Broad Shoulders."

    "So I hope," Vicki said.

    "How'd you find Australia?"

    "Just looked out the plane window, and there it was, right next to New Guinea."

    "So, it says on my card here you worked as a night auditor for a hotel on weekends. Must've met a pretty interesting crowd."

    "It can be."

    "So, got any wild stories?"

    "Well, yeah."

    Silence for a few seconds. "Care to share them with us?"

    Vicki leaned back coolly. "You'll have to buy the rights first."

    Atalanta glanced to the audience with a roll of the eyes and a "I don't pick 'em, I just read them the questions" mien. She went over to me. "Right then, good luck. Monty Bank, from where is it now? Banner Hollow, North Carolina?"

    "Yeah. Small town of 8000."

    "Is that close to any city imparticular?"

    "No, not close to really anything but the ground."

    "So how different is life here in Oz from back home?"

    I took a breath. "Well, the environment's nice. Brisbane's a lovely city."

    "Any activities you like to do there?"

    "Mostly running for my health."

    "Oh, you're a jogger?"

    "No, I live in a very rough neighborhood."

    Mixed laughs and sympathetic groans. "Well, we wish you the best of luck here." After the general applause died down, she got back to it. "Okay, round two. Three changes here: The questions will now have four answers for you to choose from, and they're now worth four kilos of muscle. And now, you'll have to use the one-kilo weight for your curls. Chantelle, since you're in the lead with 12 extra kilos, you'll start as the challenger for this round. Everybody ready?" We nodded and said yes. "Right, let's play the game."

    The signboard read: "Where did former U.S. President Bill Clinton get his bachelor's degree?"

    Vicki stood by silently. I tilted my head, in "well, I'm waiting" fashion.

    "Let's give Monty a try," went Chantelle.

    Atalanta turned my way. "Okay, Monty, here are the choices."

    University of Arkansas

    I nodded confidently as I worked the weight. Thanks to the muscle bonus, I managed my reps quite handily. "I remember Dad grousing about Slick Willy puffin' on Marleys…" — and I sucked on an imaginary joint through my free index and middle fingers — "…over in Oxford."

    "Is it Oxford?" Atalanta asked.

    Bzzt! "Georgetown" lit up. "Say huh?!" my voice cracked.

    "Nope, sorry, mate," she said. "Clinton met Mary Jane in Oxford AFTER he graduated from Georgetown. And that answer means your strength's going up in smoke!"

    Then I felt that twisted feeling in my gut, and I felt my stretched T-shirt drape over my limbs, now shrunk back to their original stick-like shape. And I heard Chantelle take a breath, and her socks bands dug into her calves, and her shirt got increasingly taut. She had some serious definition to the shoulders now.

    "Now it's your turn to try your luck, Monty. One in six chance of dropping. Unlock his zone." Shunk! I felt the door under my feet shift. "Let's play Russian Roulette."

    Well, time for some experimenting of my own. I reached forward, grabbed the handle, and gave it a tug. But as the red zone spun around, I held the lever down, and watched it keep going. I got the timing right. Atalanta stepped my way. "Gotta let go sometime," she singsonged.

    Not until I was ready. The instant that red spot lit under me, I released it. Then clackclackclack clack, clack, clack, clack… clack….

    And it stopped one tick past Larry's old spot. There were two ticks between release and return. My little test paid off.

    The audience applauded lightly, and Atalanta spread out her hands. "Not bad, Monty. Now you're the challenger. Playing with two spots now. Here's the next question."

    The signboard said: "Which musical key has no sharps or flats?" Dang. Why couldn't they have challenged me with this one instead?

    "Who do you want to challenge?" asked our hostess.

    Vicki peered hard at the signboard. Chantelle was busy feeling her biceps and admiring her muscle. "Let's bounce this one off Chantelle," I said.

    She looked up with a mild start. Atalanta said, "Okay, Chantelle, make your choice."


    After re-reading the question, the light dawned, and she started into the arm curls. "That would be C."

    When she got done, the letter C got lit. "Right on tune, Chantelle." And now the Brooklyn babe got another inch taller, and pushed past 190 pounds.

    "Okay," went Atalanta, "the scores are now Chantelle with twenty-two kilos, Vicki (thanks for showing up, by the way) with her starting three, and Monty still at zero. Next question, three spots, fifty-fifty chance here if you miss it."

    "In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, what feat of strength exposed Monsieur Madeleine's true identity as Jean Valjean?"

    I wasn't so sure of this one. Vicki scratched her head. Chantelle said, "Let's get Vicki into the party."

    Atalanta held up her hands to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said, "Vicki is going to answer one!" Laughs and cheers abounded. I relaxed. Vicki squinted. The answers popped up:

    Bending a prison bar
    Turning a miller's wheel
    Breaking a door lock
    Lifting a horse cart

    Vicki spoke simply and promptly: "Lifting a horse cart."

    The guitar chord confirmed it. And Vicki wrapped her arms around herself, hugged tightly like she would an old friend, and smiled grandly.

    "Feels great, doesn't it?" said Atalanta. "Now you're in control." Vicki nodded very knowingly. "Next question, four spots."

    "In the classic arcade game Pac-Man, which edible item is worth the most points?"

    You know I had that one. And typically, Vicki didn't even look my way. She stared at Chantelle hungrily. "All yours, girl."

    Chantelle nodded with an "Mmm hmm." And the answers popped up:

    Fourth blue ghost

    Her lips twisted off to the side as the time ticked and her biceps flexed. "I remember playing this… fourth blue ghost," she guessed.

    I shook my head as the buzzer went bzzt! "Nope," tut-tutted Atalanta. "Fourth blue ghost is worth 1600, the key is worth 5000. And that means… ah-wa-wa-wa-wa-boo-wip!" And to match our hostess' sound effect, Chantelle deflated just like a dying Pac-Man, too.

    Vicki made different sounds herself. "Oh yes. Yes! YES!" And as she felt herself up and down, I saw her grow steadily taller from 5'4" to 5'8". And she looked like someone poured in a five-pound tube package of hamburger meat in each biceps and calf. Her thighs got two tubes worth, and her forearms got half a tube each. Her chest and abdomen hadn't changed, so the limbs looked oversized. That didn't make her joy and rapture seem any smaller.

    "What a turnaround, folks!" Atalanta beamed. "Now Vicki has ALL the muscle: 29 extra kilos, with zero for Chantelle and Monty. And Chantelle, you know what this means. Four spots, unlock her zone." Shunk! "Ready?" Getting over her disappointment, Chantelle set her jaw and nodded. "Okay, let's play Russian Roulette."

    Chantelle wrapped her fingers around the lever, pulled back, released, and folded her arms. And the four red spots clacked clacked clacked, clacked… clacked… clacked…

    …and it stopped with a clear spot on her and me. The audience raved and hooted. Chantelle put one hand on her hip and snapped her fingers at Vicki in a Z formation with the other.

    "Okay, you're down with Lady Luck," said Atalanta. "Now you're the challenger, with 5 spots on the wheel. Ready?"

    The question: "How many pecks are in a bushel and a peck?"

    Chantelle scrunched her nose on that one. I tried to remember: it was four pecks per bushel, wasn't it?

    "Vicki, it's checkout time for you, girl," went the Brooklyn belle.

    Vicki just looked up and shrugged coolly. "Fine. More for me."

    The choices:


    "A bushel's four pecks," she said pedantically, "plus one peck, equals five."

    And the signboard lit up the five. "She got the math right. And here's four more kilos." She felt her torso as it thickened a bit to catch up with the limbs. She kept her near-goblet glass shape, though. I looked skyward and silently wondered why the shrews had to get the looks.

    Bing! A chime went off. Atalanta held up her hands. "Folks, that sound means that time's up for Round 2. And the current score: Chantelle and Monty have no extra muscle at all, and Vicki has 33 extra kilos. Vick, you're the only player safe right now." The audience gave her a big hand, as a fifth box with a handle sprouted up out of the center of the stage.

    Atalanta led her to it. "One of the other players is going to get dropped. Normally we'd split their extra muscle between the two survivors, but they have nothing, so…" She held up a finger. "Now, this is going to be perfectly random, but is there a player you'd rather see go right now?"

    Vicki looked at Chantelle, then me. She thumbed my way. "The hick here's served his purpose. Doesn't do a thing for me anymore."

    "Soooo, you're hoping to make this ladies' night, huh?" said Atalanta. "Well, only one way to see if it happens. Unlock Chantelle and Monty's zones." Shunk! Shunk! "Now, if you'll do the honours, Vicki… let's play Russian Roulette!"

    Vicki reached forward and pulled the handle with gusto. As Atalanta led her back to her spot, a single red spot clack-clack-clacked around the platform. Then it slowed to its clackclackclack, clack, clack, clack, clack… clack… to the spot past me. Then clack… clack… as it stalked its way around… clack.

    It stopped on Chantelle.

    She looked straight at me without a flinch or a fear. "Mayberry, kick her a–" K-CHUNK! And she dropped out of here. And no, the crowd wasn't tired of that yet.

    Vicki looked at me as if I were a plate of Brussel sprouts. I shrugged with a shameless grin. "Sorry to disappoint you," I offered.

    "No, you're not," Atalanta quipped. "And then there were two. Quick break, and we'll see which one will be the last one standing."


    I sipped again on some more Crimson Cow Stampede. I had tried asking Vicki what her beef was, but she wasn't at all chatty.

    Now almost literally too big for her boots at over 193 pounds, she treated me like I didn't exist. I didn't gulp down too much this time. Nothing would've been more embarrassing than having to bolt for the W.C. right in the middle of a tough question. Or, heaven forbid, a fall. I handed the bottle back, and scanned the gallery one more time to see if I could find Francis, Gracie, or Angela. Then I knew for a fact, they weren't out there. Where did they go? And while we were at it… where was Martissa?

    "Okay, game time in 30 seconds," said the attendant. And as I collected myself, the sinister rock bumper played again. The big screen showed in slow motion what mean ol' Mr. Gravity just did to Chantelle. She deserved better, I thought.

    "Now it's time for round three," announced Atalanta. "Three more changes: Each question will now be worth six kilos, and you'll need to use the two kilo weight. And here's the BIG change in this round. When you're the challenger, you will now have the choice of either challenging the other player… or answering the question yourself. If you get it right, we'll add that much more muscle to your body. Get it wrong, and your whole muscle surplus goes straight to your opponent, and you must play Russian Roulette.

    "Vicki, you're in the lead, you'll get first choice. Ready?" We nodded yes. "Let's play the game."

    The screen read: "After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, which nation became the largest in land area in the world?"

    Trick question. I knew the answer.

    "Vicki, do you want to answer this, or challenge Monty?"

    She flashed the hostess an "oh, come on" look. "I'll take this one."

    "Okay here are the answers."

    The United States

    Vicki rifled through the curls like popcorn. "The biggest Soviet republic was Russia."

    "Iss being correct?" went Atalanta in a mock Russian accent. The fanfare sounded. "Da, iss right! 6 kilos for you!"

    And she took a breath. But when her chest expanded with it, it didn't sink again; it stayed put. She got an inch taller, too. I steeled myself.

    "Okay, next question, two spots for this one."

    "In the woodlore rhyme, 'Leaflets three, let it be,' what color berries are poisonous?"

    "Answer it or challenge, Vick?"

    I knew this one, too. She nodded. "I'll take this one, too." Crud.

    The answers popped up:


    She tilted her head, and mimicked an elementary schoolgirl as she curled. "Leaflets three, let it be. Berries white, poisonous sight."

    "Berries white, is that right?" It was. Atalanta grinned. "You're very bright!"

    Vicki grinned wider. And her shoulders grew wider still, as she rose another inch. She stood at 5'10", and 220 pounds even. She looked at me and let her chest twitch a little. I just rolled my eyes and mumbled, "I've seen better."

    Atalanta arched an eyebrow at this to the audience, but didn't comment on it. "Now this one has three drop zones. Here it is:"

    "According to the Big Book of Vice, what is the second most widely traded commodity in the world after petroleum?"

    "Vicki, do you wish to answer this one, or challenge Monty?"

    She nodded confidently. "I'll take this one as well."

    "Okay, the answers are:"


    She lobbed the weight simply. "That would be coffee."

    "Is she right? Coffee?" Yep. I should have guessed.

    She spread out her arms. "Oh yes. More. Bigger." This time she got TWO inches taller and the limbs plumped out some more. And her biceps were about as big as Karen's. I stared helplessly as I heard stitches snap.

    "What's wrong?" she asked. "Nervous? Don't like not being in control?" I silently ignored her needling.

    "Don't worry," Atalanta said, "it's not over until somebody drops. Now then, question four, four drop zones."

    "Which Chinese historical figure wrote, 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime'?"

    "Answer or challenge, Vicki?"

    "This one's mine," Vicki said huskily.

    The answers flashed up:

    Sung Tzu
    Lao Tzu
    Sun Yat Sen

    She pumped away the reps and waited for the last second to answer: "Lao Tzu."

    That guitar strum was getting very tedious. So was her steady expansion. With her sleeveless shirt splitting down the side seams from her armpits to her ribcage, and shorts starting to split around her thighs, her limbs ballooned out yet some more, as did her chest, as she grew to 6'1" and within less than 4 pounds of an eighth of a ton. I stared anyway.

    "Well, hick," she taunted. "I stand corrected. Guess you're not gay after all."

    I said nothing. It wasn't her attitude, it was the frustration. How much longer before time ran out on this round? But I quietly made my peace. Worse things happen at sea, as they say. I just couldn't think of any just then.

    "Okay," Atalanta said. "We've topped out here. Five drop zones, one safe one. Here's the question:"

    "Which Army has 'Blood And Fire' as its motto?"

    This time she gazed at the question for quite a while. Then she looked my way, and if smiles could've killed, I wouldn't be writing this now. "Let's finish this. Monty, it's all yours."

    I puzzled over the possibilities. I guessed I was going to have to guess. "At long last, Monty. Get it right, and you'll get some muscle back. Get it wrong, you've got only a one in six chance of staying. Here goes."


    Yes! I just remembered! My Dad "volunteering" me at Christmastime just paid off hugely! "The Blood of Jesus Christ, the Fire of the Holy Spirit! The Salvation Army!"

    The timer ticked on. "Don't forget the reps, Mont," said Atalanta.

    Eep! I hurried and cranked them out. One, two, three, four, five… six… seven… this was harder than I thought. Eight…

    "He's not gonna make it…" sang Vicki.

    Nine… and… ten! Just barely. My biceps twitched as I let the weight drop. "Right then. Is it the Salvation Army?" Atalanta asked.

    And Salvation shone in gold. And that trickle came in, twice as strong as ever. I sighed in euphoria and relief.

    "Oh, wow," muttered Vicki. "Six whole kilos. That's what, almost a tenth of what I've got?"

    "Still not over yet, folks. Monty, now you've got control. We're still at five spots. The question's yours."

    "In the MTV cartoon Beavis and Butt-head, which rock group has its name on Beavis' T-shirt?"

    "Do you want to answer or challenge, Monty?" Atalanta asked.

    I knew it was either Metallica or AC/DC. But I couldn't remember who wore which. Then I realized it was a moot point; I was running out of time. "I'll challenge Vicki."

    "Okay, Vicki," went Atalanta, "here are the answers."

    Judas Priest
    Van Halen

    She did the reps quickly. Then as she puzzled it out, she said: "AC/DC." Eww. That was my guess.

    "Is it AC/DC?"

    Bzzt! Metallica lit up. Vicki's face quickly looked like it belonged in the painting, "The Scream." And it was the only thing that stopped me from cackling. "Well, Vicki," Atalanta chirped, "I know what Beavis would say right now… this sucks!" And as my foe started to atrophy back to normal, I got ready for that warm water trickle again.

    Trickle, shmickle! It felt like Yellowstone's Old Faithful went off inside me! Then I felt my shirt's armbands dig into my upper arms, then I heard my shirt's stitches break, and the short sleeves split and blossomed like firecracker shells.  My socks dug into my calves, the top bands broke, and they fell to my ankles like 1980s slouch socks. My shoes pinched. My shorts' elastic waistband got very snug. Finally, when that pressurized flood subsided, I looked down at myself.

    I stood at an even six feet, and bulged out at over 237 pounds of pure muscle.

    "And now, Vicki, it's your turn. Unlock her zone." Shunk! "Any last words before you pull the handle?"

    Vicki looked at me very sourly. Then to Atalanta. "No. Because it's not over yet."

    "Brave words. We'll see. Let's play Russian Roulette."

    Vicki smirked. "You know one trick, hick. And I can do it, too." She tugged away, held it, and watched the spinning spots. Then she let go, and watched it slow down. Holding a finger at the one safe zone, she "directed" it to her feet and said, "Stay." It stayed. "Good boy." Hands on hips, she nodded once at me with a smirk, as the audience gave her a standing ovation. "It's not over yet."

    Bing! went the chime. "But now it is," said Atalanta. "That's the end of the third round, and Monty's in the lead with 63 extra kilos of muscle!" The still-standing audience turned their hurrahs to me. "You're the only safe one, now, Mont. And with only one other opponent… sorry, Vicki.  Your reservation’s cancelled!" Shunk! Vicki then tried to charge at me, but K-CHUNK!

    She fell in midstep and clipped the platform's edge with her chin on the way down. I wish I'd been big enough to feel sorry for her.

    Atalanta walked over and shook my hand. "Congratulations, Monty! You're our last man standing! How's it feel to be a powerhouse now?"

    "I never dreamed this would ever happen," I admitted.

    "Well, it has. Believe it. And it's not quite over yet. We're going to put your newfound strength, your smarts, your nerve, and your luck to the ultimate test, right after a short break."


    Sipping one last time on the bottle, I idly watched some working women move a steel cage onto the platform. They attached it to a pole that extended from the stage's rim to a new post in the middle. I remembered seeing something like this on a World's Strongest Man competition on ESPN2. It was called a Conan wheel. Was this what was next?

    As the attendant took my bottle, I sighed as I watched the big screen showed the other contestants fall. It wasn't enough to just show the last one, but they had to show Larry, then Chantelle, then Vicki take a dip. I cranked up some saliva in my mouth to wash down the Crimson Cow Stampede aftertaste.

    "Okay, we're back," said Atalanta. "Monty Bank, you made it all this way and have got a new body. I bet you're feeling proud."

    "Grateful, more like," I said.

    "So what did you think about turning it around at the last minute like that? Were you nervous?"

    "A bit. But I just asked for the power to change what I could, the peace to accept what I couldn't, and the wisdom to know the difference."

    "I know Vicki was giving you a lot of grief."

    "Believe it or not, I honestly feel sorry for her now, I really do. She was one smart cookie, snaps off all the answers to history, science, business, and so on, and what happened? She got taken down by the Beavis and Butt-head question." The audience laughed. I got serious for a second. "I really feel sorry for Chantelle and Larry, too."

    "Yeah, well, guess what?" said Atalanta. "You might get a chance to meet them and sympathise with them, unless you keep up your streak. Now it's time for the Bonus Round."

    From the catwalk leading to the platform, two lovely ladies wheeled in a motorcycle. And it wasn't any leaf-blower engined dirt bike, either. "This is a 2000 Harley-Davidson FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide. Dry weight of 300 kilos," said Atalanta. And they rolled it up the ramp and into the cage, locked it down, and got out of the way.

    "Okay here's how it works. You'll lift up that cage with the Harley, walk, and carry it around the platform, stepping over the drop zones. I will ask you ten questions. You will have sixty seconds to answer them. For every one you get right, you'll be allowed to move thirty-six degrees around the circle. As you do, for every ten seconds that passes, a drop zone will open up. You must make it all the way around and answer all ten questions correctly to win. If you give a wrong answer, are standing on a drop zone when it opens, drop the motorcycle, or if time runs out… you drop." She patted the beam. "Oh, two more things. The entire wedge around the trap door will drop, so forget about standing between drop zones. And there's also a quick release device that'll drop the cage, Harley and all. You may want to remember that if you're considering hanging onto it and dangling. Do you understand all that?"

    I took a breath. "Yes."

    "Very good. Okay, unlock all six zones." Shunk! they went in sextophonic sound. "Are you focused? Relaxed?" I nodded. "Right then. One last thing. If you're stuck on a question say, 'pass,' and if there's time left, we'll come back to it. Sixty seconds on the clock. It'll start after I've finished the first question. I'll start reading once you've lifted up the bike."

    They had to be kidding! They expected me to lift a mass of metal weighing over a third of a U.S. ton? I stared at Atalanta, waiting for her to offer a wimp-out option. She stared back and extended a hand to the caged bike. "Whenever you're ready," she simply said.

    So that was that. Mine not to make reply, mine not to reason why, mine but to do or die. Very well. I took one last deep breath, bent down at the knees, grabbed the bar, and pushed up. It was an armful and a serious strain, but I did heft it up to chest level.

    "Good luck, let's begin," she said quickly. "Lucifer, Michael, Gabriel. Which last name sang 'Shock the Monkey'?"

    Suspenseful music played. "Gabriel," I grunted, as I lugged the thing forward, waddling like a duck.

    "Correct. Salt, water, natural gas. Which is pure dihydrogen monoxide?"


    "Correct. Twenty, fifty, sixty." K-CHUNK! went the first trap door right behind me. "Which is the highest score on a single throw in English darts?"

    I remembered the triple ring. "Sixty."

    "Correct. Ford, Pepsi, McDonald's. Which was the first American brand sold in the Soviet Union?"


    "Correct. Kangaroo, koala, kookaburra." K-CHUNK! "Which animal's name in Aboriginal language means 'I don't know'?"


    "Correct." She sped up. "Oranges, lemons, strawberries. Which has the most vitamin C per gram?"

    Biceps starting to ache… "Strawberries!"

    "Correct. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, J.K. Rowling." K-CHUNK! "Who wrote The Screwtape Letters?"

    Legs getting tired… "Lewis!"

    "Correct. Lactic acid, amino acid, citric acid. Which builds protein?"

    Arms starting to burn… "Amino acid!"

    "Correct. South America, Africa, Australia." K-CHUNK! "In the game Risk, which is linked to only one other continent?"

    Hands trembling… "Australia!"

    "Correct. Thirty, forty-two, fifty-six. How many dots are on a pair of dice?"

    Grip slipping! No time for math! Wild guess! "FORTY-TWO!"

    "Correct! Stop the clock!"

    About time! I dropped the Harley and the cage to the floor with a crash. A triumphant hard rock riff blasted through the studio almost as loudly as the audience's roar. It blew all the earlier applause on the drops away. Bending forward, I rasped for breath. And my wheezes staggered into laughs. I did it! If anyone had said I'd lift and carry a full sized motorcycle anywhere, I'd have said they were crazy or stoned.

    "Way to go!" extolled Atalanta after the ballyhoo died down a little. "You've come full circle! You've joined the ranks of the few, the proud, the strong minded and strong willed! And now it's time to bring your body up to match!"

    I heard the machinery wind up. And I braced myself for my internal bath…

    OUCH! That hurt! It felt like my water heater exploded! Dropping to my knees and hands, I felt a Hoover Dam reservoir of hot bath water flood through my whole body from head to fingertips to toes! As my vision blurred and went red, I felt my tattered shirt rags rip and fall away. My shorts split along the straddle. My socks ripped, and my shoes popped like balloons.

    Finally, that torturous ecstasy started to settle down. Slowly my eyes remembered how to focus. Atalanta asked, "Are you okay? How do you feel?"

    My voice said it all: "I feel thick."

    I thought I felt a child's hand take mine and help me stand. I slowly rose. And rose. And rose.

    Looking around, the platform, the stage, the whole club seemed smaller. Like I'd stepped into my old elementary school's classroom after I'd graduated from college. And I looked to my hand.

    Atalanta didn't even come up to my shoulders now. "Monty," she said quietly. "You now stand at 2.31 meters tall and tip… no, crush the scales at 216 kilograms. That's seven feet, seven inches tall and 476 pounds in the American imperial system." She extended her hand to the Harley. "Give it a try now."

    Walking over, and feeling the weight of my steps, I reached over, took hold, and hefted it up. Much, much easier. The women that wheeled it in now brought out a tall mirror. And looking right back at me was this massive giant with my face, hefting up a motorcycle like it was a 12 year old's minibike. And this giant cracked a boyish cheese-eating grin and giggled with a bass voice.

    "Oh yes," Atalanta continued. "Now you have the height, the mass, the very appearance of the man's answer to the Western European Überbabe." She looked up to me and held up a finger. "But not quite the strength."

    My eyebrows shot up. "Say what now?"

    "See, right now, you’ve got five times the strength of the pre-Zap human adult male.  But the Bureau gives the women of Europe's Big Three something a little extra. Something that sets them apart from even the rest of womankind. Something that gives them 30 times the strength." She extended a hand to a place off the platform. Right there was a female stevedore reeling in a cart with a small steel drum about the size of a five gallon jug for the office water cooler. It had the three black triangles on a yellow circle. The famous radiation warning logo. And above it in big block stenciled letters: "STRONGIUM-90. DANGER: RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPE." And in smaller text: "Property of Moore Laboratories. Medical Use Only. Resale Or Redistribution Strictly Prohibited By International Law."

    Then it all clicked. This was probably why Big Sister was scouring Gold Coast. This was probably the loot from the armored car.

    "Just one last thing before the game's done," Atalanta continued. "You can do one of two things. You can either stop now, and walk away with your body the way it is now, or… you can play one last game of Russian Roulette. You completed the run in 49 seconds. Four drop zones are open. If you want, you can pull the handle one last time with four drop zones. If it comes up red… you drop. If you're still here, though… we'll give you the multiplier isotope, and you'll be every bit as strong gram per gram as the French, British, and Swiss women."

    Wow. Did I even want to THINK about that much strength in my body?

    "Just one minor hitch, though. You know all that muscle you've won so far?" She stood on tiptoe and looked me straight in the eye. "You've got to give every bit of it back first.

    "So, Monty… what's it going to be?"

    I tuned out the audience's shouts on which way to go. It was split fifty-fifty anyway. I looked down at my biceps the size of the isotope drum. My massive chest. My ridiculously huge legs and the loincloth that was my shorts hanging on by an elastic waistband and a prayer. All that was pretty danged impressive as was.

    Then I thought of the Harpies. Ms. Harridan. Uni and Flo. Mrs. Summerlin. That girl by the anime store. The Bureau officers.

    And yes, most especially… Suzette Termagant.

    Setting the bike down, I shot my fist in the air, and thundered, "Let's go for it!"

    Big cheers here. The Harley women wheeled the bike out, and another detached and removed the Conan wheel cage and bar. The four open trap doors shut slowly. Atalanta led me to my old spot. "Right, then," she said. "Four drop zones, two safe ones. One in three chance here. Last chance to change your mind."

    I shook my head no. "Do it."

    "Very well."

    And I felt the worst twist-up of my insides ever. Worse than the time I'd eaten a bunch of bad ice cream and spent the day with diarrhea and vomiting. I staggered to my knees again. And I felt all that power fade away, and collapse. I was back to my wormy, scrawny, 99 pound weakling state again. And I sweated profusely. It was okay, though. I checked the platform. The safe spots were at ten and two, with high noon and the half between four and eight deadly red. All I had to do was time it, let go at the right instant, and whoom. I'd be the strongest man known on the planet.

    "Unlock Monty's zone." Shunk! "Just in case you don't make it, though, is there anything you'd like to say?"

    I scanned the audience one last time. Then I just spread my arms out. "Angie, wherever you are… this could have been yours."

    "Right then. Good luck, Monty! For the isotope, and a new record in strength! Let's play Russian Roulette!"

    I wiped the sweat off my brow, wrapped my fingers around the handle one last time, and pulled.

    And that's where I major league screwed up! My sweaty hand slicked up the handle, and I fumbled it! I didn't even get a good hard look at the zones to time them! This was going to be a perfectly random, honest gamble!

    I had to stay cool… one in three was pretty decent… I had won lots of those free twenty-ounce soft drinks with the bottle caps, and the odds there were twelve to one…

    The spinning zones slowed down…

    … and I was going to miss the Red Half of Doom entirely! Yes!

    NO!!! The high noon spot!

    I whimpered. My spirit and ego plummeted like a rock. K-CHUNK! My body quickly followed.

    To be concluded in Chapter 7: Truth Or Consequences.


    My hat is off to you JimmyDimples, you continue to write a great story. Too bad for Monty I guess, but it is probably not over. Mmm, we don’t exactly know where they all end up do we?

    Again thank you for your generous contribution to this great forum.



    Johnny Dimples,

    This is great! You’ve taken the usual FMGstory and the male protagonist that loses his strength while the woman gains, and made it into a real gamble!

    Thanks for writing and sharing man 8)


    Hehe! Excellent! I somehow knew he wouldn’t walk out of there looking like a hulk. 🙂


    And I’ve pulled out the handful of misteaks I made here now. Chapter 6 is all fixed.

    When I wrote this the first time, I was drowsy. I took short rations of sleep because I was having a blast writing it. And I was in such a hurry to post it and collect the reader’s kudos, I forgot to do something like, oh, I don’t know… run the spell checker. 😳

    All taken care of now…


    This is such a great story to read. I’m kept in suspense for the next installment. Great idea of how women are made stronger at the expense of the men with the use of a satelites that "steal" the strength men have and redistribute the strength to the women. I hope there is a next chapter coming soon.

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.