[Comic: 692]

   Since Rikk couldn’t move, or even see very well, he talked.

   "I’m sorry, guys, I really am. He seemed like a nice enough guy. A little eccentric, maybe, but… I’ve just got to be a better judge of character."

   Will sighed. Every once in a while, Rikk reminded him why he had taken so long to earn Will’s respect.

   Rumy carefully pursed her lips and carefully parsed her reply. "I forgive you, Rikk."

           Sight was returning to the three of them. They were in a basement, presumably underneath the physics lab where they’d been taken prisoner. Rikk had heard Professor Fitz emphasize that no one should use the gas nozzles in that lab without adult supervision. In that respect, if in no other, he had been honest.

   But Rikk never would have guessed that the nozzles held green knockout gas under fire-hose pressure levels. That was a surprise Fitz had saved until after Rikk had led Will and Rumy into the lab.

   As they had passed out, Rikk had had just enough consciousness left to realize that whatever Fitz wanted them for, it probably wasn’t the discussion of teleportation he’d requested of the three of them. And it probably wouldn’t help Rikk’s GPA.

   They were in a basement, each of them strapped at the wrists, shoulders, and ankles to parallel chairs, each with something metal covering their heads. Rikk looked to his left, but with his field of vision restrained by the straps, he couldn’t see much higher than Will’s jaw. He could see the top of Rumy’s head to his right, though. It looked like she was wearing a colander, except a few wires connected it to the ceiling.

   Rumy had forced herself calm when the gas hit her lungs. That investment was paying off now. The boys… no, men, Will was of marrying age and Rikk was married… the boys had used all their strength to fight the gas, and were now much slower to shrug it off than she was.

   While Rikk was just starting to assess the room, Rumy had been awake for minutes, testing, flexing, and making progress. The straps were tight even on her small bones, but she was not just any girl. She was one of the greatest pupils of The Whatever-Works School of Martial Arts, and she had studied under a sensei who knew every muscle in the male and female body. Slowly, slowly her left abductor pollicis longus worked its way free, then her flexor carpi ulnaris and radialis, and her extensors were almost, almost…

   Rikk sucked in breath and fought to lift his arm. He had none of Rumy’s subtlety, nor technique, nor silence. "HNNNNNNN!" he grunted, gritting his teeth, the picture of heroic determination. Blast it… his… arm… would… lift…!

   It seemed to Rumy, as she stared at him, that she had been trying to concentrate on something, but she couldn’t remember what it was.

   "It’s useless to struggle, you know," said Professor Ignatious Fitz, walking merrily into the basement. If he’d been a few years younger and in better shape, he would have been skipping.

   "But I kinda get off on it. So please, keep right on writhing. I’m an old man. I’ve got needs."

   "You SICKO!" Will spat.

   Rumy looked away, blushing violently.

   "Takes one to know one, kiddo. When you’re my age… and that’ll happen sooner than you think, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, see if YOU don’t have an eye for some pretty little jailbait."

   Having determined his arms were helpless, Rikk had not been wasting time through this talk. His eyes had followed the wires along the ceiling to a large machine in the corner, with several switches and many blinking red, green, and yellow lights… it looked vaguely like the way writers in the 1960s had thought of supercomputers, before they started thinking smaller. There was another colander wired to the machine.

   Any idiot could see that that machine meant Very Bad Things for the three of them. But it took a slightly smarter idiot to notice Rumy’s wrist beside him, half-wriggled loose, and to know that she was their best chance out of there. If he and Will could keep Fitz focusing on them, not on her or on the machine.

   So when Fitz turned back to said machine, Rikk called out. "Ready for that discussion, Professor Fitz?"

   Fitz didn’t stop working. "Sure, and like all good teachers, I’ll tell you the questions to ask. You say ‘Is it possible for an old, decrepit, cancer-ridden genius to trade bodies with a young, strapping chick magnet like Blondie here?’" He pointed to Will.

   "Then I’ll say, ‘Yes.’ Then you’ll say, ‘Oh, go on. Really?’ Then I’ll say, ‘Yes!’ Then you’ll say ‘Yeah, right. Prove it.’ Then I’ll pull this switch here and say ‘Done!’"

   He reached for the switch.

   "Wait!" Rikk cried, sounding desperate now. "Chick magnet? You don’t want him! He’s got gonorrhea! Take me!"

   "You liiiie like a rug. A really cheap, threadbare, practically transparent rug."

   "All right then!" Rikk fairly shouted. "The truth! The truth is… the truth is that Will hasn’t made love in almost a year, but I make love almost every night!"

   Fitz visibly hesitated.

   "I’m recuperating, okay?" Will sputtered. "And April and I had agreed to wait until we were ready!"

   "Really amazing lovemaking," Rikk went on, smiling at Fitz with genuine pride. He’d learned better than to share his unbelievable good fortune with his friends, but now the floodgates were open. "I never knew you could do so many things with clavicles."

   Fitz’s eyes flicked from Rikk’s almost girlish face to Will’s concrete build. "Your first story was better."

   And he threw a switch.


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