It was a rather foggy October morning when Lora Jett, age 31, had arrived back at the Candy Castle "Sweets shop", only 30 minutes after thwarting a mugging attempt at a nearby gas station one block down. Being a cashier, profits were looking pretty good at this time of day.
"Hey, Lora, mail for you!" came an old voice from the back room.
The voice belonged to her boss, Mr. Richard Hearst. When he came into the main room, Mr. Hearst was holding a brown paper envelope. Lora opened it quietly, to make sure none of the customers were watching. She felt suspicious about this letter because of that. Although simply printed out, it still struck the cashier as suspicious. It said:
"We're having a party down at the Cloverbrow hotel, room 27. No need to bring company, we have plenty of people here right now. Come as you are, you don't have to dress fancy. Party's at 2:00 PM. Be there, or be squared."
She pocketed the note and decided to do what it said. Mr. Hearst allowed Lora the permission to leave work early to go to this party. Lora knocked on the door 3 times, but instead of being greeted warmly by a bunch of people in flashy uniforms, two dark, buff men in flak jackets and night vision goggles grabbed her by the arms and strapped her in chains to a chair.
At first, Ms. Jett thought she could easily escape an ensnarement such as this, but one of the men simply interrupted, "Uh-uh, madam," after which the other man turned a valve on a propane canister hooked up to a hose designed for leakage which circled the chair, and lit a zippo lighter to set the gas leakage ablaze. There was no way for any elastic being to escape chains without being burned by a lit gas flame.
"Who are you?!" She shrieked while struggling to free herself.
The two men removed their masks, and they turned out to be the same two thugs she had fought in her previous mission. The one who spoke earlier continued, "You don't recognize us, Lorraine? Didn't you meet us before at the Candy Factory and Ore Refinery?"
The shorter man continued, "As you should know, we're your permanent nemeses now!"
"Oh yeah? What qualifies you two brutes as solid villains?" Lora defiantly blurted.
They stripped off the rest of their black suits, revealing cold, yet brightly colored villain uniforms. The tall, muscular one seemed to have cybernetic enhancements in his body, which surrounded a dark green Kevlar suit of armor. Armor on armor? Or were the outer garments just spandex that form-fitted to the inner? One of the enhancements covering a scarred left side of his face seemed to explain that it had some sort of device for telepathic projections or something along those lines. The other, slightly chubbier thug had a bright blue and cyan suit, with a strange logo seeming to imply that he had size-changing abilities.
"Now do you think we're qualified super-villains?" The former demanded.
Lora simply said nothing, although her fears rose like a thermometer in high noon during August when the pair held combat knives to her throat. All she could think about was convincing them to let her go, but she felt too afraid to speak. It was then that Lora had forgotten something very important: Her own sidekick! She had left Meredith at home since this was meant to be a normal work day! What were either of them to do now?
"Any last words, Lovergum?" The taller man chuckled evilly.
The captive shook her head while sweating like a sewer drain.
Suddenly, the hotel room's door opened with a crash, as if someone had kicked it right off the hinges.
"Get away from her, you punks!" A teenage-sounding voice yelled.
The two villains turned their heads, prompting Lora to do the same elongating her neck to do so. All 3 of them could just make out two dark, yet clearly humanoid silhouettes in the brightly lit doorway. One looked like a teen girl about 5 feet 8 inches tall, the other about the height of an average adult woman. Neither of their facial features could be made out. She couldn't figure out exactly who these women were yet, but Lora discovered that these were heroines as well: The teen girl raised one hand, which had a purple aura of sparks surrounding it, and the reaction sent the fat villain flying across the room, straight into the empty metal frame of a bed. The adult shot a red laser beam from her right wrist maybe from a bracelet or watch and this caused the cyborg-man to be blinded with the goggles still covering his eyes. Not only that, the laser overloaded their sensors so much that they exploded, probably injuring the wearer's eyes as well.
Finally, the pair of girls rushed over to turn off the propane tank, and cut the chains restraining Lora to the chair.
As she got to her feet again, the first thing that came out of Lora's mouth was, "Who are you two girls?"
"We don't have time to explain right now. Come with us, we need to get you somewhere safe," The teen hurriedly answered.
Seeing that there were no questions to be asked, Ms. Jett promptly followed their orders and followed the pair out of the hotel, to a black, unmarked sedan. She felt a little nervous, but also confident at the same time because these girls saved her life. They appeared to be driving her towards what looked like a suburban house 2309 Kingston Avenue that didn't look too suspicious in this suburban area.
The teen and laser-wielding woman ushered Lora out of the sedan, and led her into the house. At first, Miss Jett couldn't figure out why she was brought here, but the teen quickly dashed into a laundry room in the hall. Lora stretched her body around the corner and into that room to see, and saw her twiddling the dryer's setting knob back and forth like a combination lock. Then she pushed the start button, causing the dryer to improbably slide along the side of the room, revealing some sort of manhole with a ladder inside. The masked, yellow-shirted adult shoved Lora aside and followed the teen down the ladder. Lora followed after that, feeling the pain of her body being strained over a distance. When the ladder came to an end, the trio of girls was face to face with a large flat-screen monitor, which quickly lit up, showing the face of a serious-looking Croatian man. He spoke, "Good afternoon, Teen Witch, Suno. Glad you could drop by."
It appeared that this guy didn't see Lora yet, but she felt interested in coming closer. Meanwhile, the adult who was just now confirmed to be "Suno" promptly asked, "What's today's mission, sir?"
"I have a rescue mission for you two: It seems that there's a new super-heroine on the records today, but the boys tell us that she's trapped somewhere inside a tomb in the Yucatan peninsula. We need you to go there and free her by any means necessary. Will you accept this mission?"
Both women saluted and rang, "Sir, Yes sir!"
Before the man's face fuzzed off the screen, he appeared to have spotted Lora in the back of the room, and continued, "Who's that there, in the back?"
Teen Witch turned in Lora's direction, and asked her to come nearer. When that was done, she returned to their boss, "This is...er, Lora Jett. Suno and I just rescued her from two wannabe villains that tried to fry her."
"Really? And what powers to you possess, Lora?"
Instead of a direct answer, Lora smiled as she elongated her left arm and made some strange shapes out of it, like silly putty.
"Ah, another Elastic Woman to add to the files," He paused, thinking for a bit, then went on, "How would you like to be a part of this mission, Miss Jett?"
She blushed, and proudly answered, "I couldn't think of anything better!"
"Good, I'll let the rest of the Other 6 and the other heroes of our organization know they might have a 'new recruit'." Then the man directed his attention to the whole group, "A chopper's been prepared a few blocks down, Coordinates have already been programmed. I look forward to hearing your results." He paused, then smiled, "Good luck everyone, Agent Rock out."
Lora turned toward the girls, and asked, "Hey, just as a point of interest, what is the 'Other 8' your boss just pointed out?"
Teen witch replied, "We're part of a secret organization of superheroes, mostly consisting of women."
"Mmm, I'd like to know more about that later," Ms. Jett replied smugly.
They followed the man's instructions, and quickly left base for that chopper. It turned out that it was docked in the middle of a quite empty ranch, with only hay bales to provide variety. While they were heading towards the chopper, Suno rolled her eyes for a second and scoffed, "You really need a better heroic name, lady. I mean, the one you have just seems slapped together, know what I'm saying?"
"I didn't invent it; an old woman from a whole different planet came up with. She also created the costume that's now bonded to my body...for good," Lora argued.
Shrugging the matter off, they hopped into the helicopter and set off for Mexico, a long flight indeed, since Centropolis was in southern California. But eventually, within a few hours of bored flying, they made it. The chopper seemed to touch down in a forested area of Mexico. A highway with a sign protruded just slightly from the trees in the west, and seemed to say "Chichen Izta". From Lora's dull research in World History class, she realized that this town was built over the ruins of a Mayan village.
She asked after this long pause, "If this used to be a Mayan city, why are we here?"
"Didn't you hear our boss? He said there's someone trapped in the underground remains of one of the temples that used to be here," Teen Witch explained.
Suno whipped out a pair of infrared scanning goggles, and located where the person in question was. She couldn't make out exactly where she was, but there was a more or less clear way to reach that place from the surface. It appeared to be underneath a water tower, something most people weren't allowed public access to. In fact, there happened to be a sign on its chain-link fence that said "PRIVATE PROPERTY Trespassers will be prosecuted".
The pair turned towards Lora and smiled in a clever-looking way. Lora looked side to side for a second, then said, "What? What are you looking at me for?"
They both replied, pointing one hand each to the tower, "After you, Lorraine."
Nervously, she carried out that suggestion, made a quick decision to elongate her legs over the fence, and make one wide step over it. Suno looked towards her partner and whispered, "I wonder what Lea will think of this girl?"
Teen Witch laughed along, "I bet the first thing she'll try would be an elastic wrestling competition, and I bet my last $30 that she'll win! This woman's just a rookie to me."
Suno's eyebrows flattened and her lips turned to a frown, "If you think Lora's a rookie, why did our boss assign US to pick her up? She said she had a sidekick named...Mary, Marcy...whatever."
The argument came to an end when the woman in question had opened the tower's fence from its back side. The trio of heroines followed Suno's findings, and quickly discovered what looked like a manhole. On it was a sign that said "Hazardous area. Authorized personnel only." This time, Suno broke out her laser again and cut off the manhole's cover in only 12 seconds. As a form of getback, Lora poked Teen Witch in the back lightly with her right finger, and chuckled, "After YOU, Teenage Sorceress." She did that without question, followed by Lora herself, and finally Suno. The latter happened to have a flashlight on her belt, and shined it around a bare underground tunnel. It would seem that although Chichen Itza did have a number of preserved Mayan buildings, it seemed that this area was not one of them. Was it a tomb? A buried sacrificial site?
Their pondering was interrupted by a scream echoing down the tunnel. The trio seemed to deduce the voice to be that of a young Asian woman's, about the age of 19. Carefully, they followed the echo's source down the tunnel, but the place's features did not change for what felt like almost 10 yards. All of a sudden, Suno dropped her flashlight in distress, and it broke with a spark. Teen Witch felt several arms grabbing her from both sides, and Lora painfully sensed the shock of first a tough metallic fist punching her in the stomach despite it absorbing the energy and snapping back. But someone else clubbed Lora in the head from behind, and that succeeded in knocking her out.
When the trio of women came around, 4 people seemed to be standing over them. One was holding a mini-flashlight right in their faces. Each one could be clearly identified, from mind to mind: The same two villains from that hotel were on the left, a sinister woman in a blue parka with azure goggles stood proudly on the far right, and between them, a dark-colored, green-suited woman waited impatiently in the middle. Lora recognized the latter as what used to be her evil self, but was baffled as to how it was here now, seeing that her last mission ended in the clone merging with Lora's body again.
The other two hostages recognized the blue-clothed woman as Miss Cold. She was most likely the one who restrained them like this, judging from the aura of 40 degree temperature around the 3 girls.
The cyborg-man leaned closer, showing his scarred left eye to them, and began, "Well, well, it seems we've been 3 steps ahead of you three all along."
Miss Cold added with a cackling voice, "You'll never guess what we have in store for you three, and your little Asian damsel in distress!"
It seemed the evil clone was mute, for though she stood there with a pose of being ready to speak, her lips wouldn't move. The first man continued, "Say goodbye to your little heroic lives, you fools!"
The fat man happened to be carrying a shoulder-mounted laser cannon turned to setting "11", and activated it in 3 seconds. To the captives' surprises, the laser did not begin between the legs. Instead, it was directed straight at their necks in a horizontal direction, with Teen Witch closest to it. Suno appeared to have all of her gadgets confiscated during her capture. Miss Cold was now bringing down a beam of ice from her right hand to freeze the 3 further. It felt as if all hope was lost...but then, a ray of hope hit the members: Teen Witch and Lora were still wearing their masks, and the fairly thick lenses on each would redirect the laser like mirrors.
This was executed immediately by the two turning their heads just right so that the laser would melt the ice sheaths restraining these women, prompting the group of villains to shriek. The fat man's leader clunked him in the head and yelled, "How could you be so absent-minded as to let those...CANINES redirect your laser weapon?!"
He whined, "But it was really heavy, sir! I didn't know I was supposed to look!"
The argument them enough time for Teen Witch, Suno, and Lora to break out and formulate a plan.
Lora began, "Suno, you try to locate where that scream came from, Teen--"
"Er, call me Maria, please."
"Sorry, Maria: You keep the bad guys occupied, and I'll use my powers to help free whoever was trapped here. Do you accept this plan?"
The pair nodded vigorously, prompting Ms. Jett to shout, "Let's roll!"
They separated in an instant, running off in a 3-way direction. Maria stopped halfway up a staircase, where that fat man was waiting. He grinned in a sinister way, then used his powers to grow to about 7.5 feet tall, not to mention equally wide. But Maria chanted an odd spell, and this caused her adversary to float into the air, then be tossed straight across to the other side of the buried chamber.
Suno, meanwhile, was busy manufacturing a makeshift electricity gun from some convenient crates of electronic parts she found in a rather dark room. But the buff cyborg man with fire burning in his eyes was now bearing over her with a knife sticking out of his mechanical right arm. Suno managed to piece together and power up the zapper just before that bearded man could chop her head off, and fired a high-voltage beam not at his head, but at a wire she could see on his right shoulder. He reacted screaming like a monster, and fell to the floor, flat on his back.
Lora bounded into a wide canal of water where she could hear the scream again, took several very deep breaths, and inflated her body to a staggering 8.5 feet high. There was rubble where that first noise was coming from, so she thought size changing would also give Lora added super-strength as well. Using it, she pushed the rubble aside like clearing up a mess of Legos, and found something underneath: It was a young Asian girl with long black hair and wearing a dark silk dress. Lora extended her now oversized right thumb for the girl to grab, and brought her to the other side of the canal, followed by her savior returning to normal size.
Of course, the two male villains weren't down yet. And now Miss Frost and Lora's clone were upon them as well. The latter was occupied with the real version, unable to get an advantage over either of them. Every move Lora made was countered by the clone, unless there was something she had that the clone didn't.
Then, out of the blue, Lora indeed found something: It was a Zippo lighter lying on the floor. She lit it and, setting fire to the clone's foot, she laughed, "Not so much like me now, are you?"
While the blue-skinned doppelganger of this heroine melted to a lump of green latex, Miss Cold laughed at the one who caused it, knowing that a simple lighter wouldn't hurt someone who has cryo-kinesis. Suno came back to help, having already disarmed the two male enemies with Maria. She happened to have an aerosol spray can on her person, and held it right behind the lighter in Lora's hand, the latter of whom was taking great care not to set herself alight. At the count of 3, Suno opened the nozzle with one push, and while neither of the women intended to hurt Miss Cold, they knew that a mini-flamethrower like this would at least temporarily disable her powers.
"Is that everybody?" Lora spoke up with a hint of exhaustion in her voice.
The Asian lady walked slowly and carefully towards the others, looked around for a second, and nodded her head.
Teen Witch happened to have a cell phone on her person, and spoke in a clinical way after placing a call, "This is Teen Witch. We found the 'damsel in distress' with the help of a new assisting member; Requesting transport to base."
A male voice on the phone replied, "Affirmative, we're dispatching a helicopter now. There should be a hole in your area that you can reach the return chopper from."
"Got it, see you there."
It wasn't too long before the puttering sound of a helicopter echoed in the buried temple. One of the women looked up and saw a convenient hole in the ceiling, watching as a purple and yellow-striped chopper passed over. It landed a little ways next to the hole and dropped a rope ladder that reached to about 3 feet off the building's floor. Despite being in an awkward position, all 4 of the girls made it into the chopper.
Lora was the last to get in, and while sitting in the passenger cabin next to Suno, she inquired, "Where are we going?"
The latter smirked, "To where our boss' superhero groups come together every now and then, including mine."
Ms. Jett immediately felt like an excited child, like when he was going to see a movie he had wanted to see for a year. She had, so to speak, been flying solo for her entire "career" as a heroine, and now she was finally able to meet other heroes and heroines for the first time ever.
But then she felt a somehow empty feeling immediately after: Meredith! Lora's own sidekick had been left behind this whole time! Yet, there was a possibility that she would be fine regardless, or perhaps even with the other heroes right now at their base.
The scenery changed again, passing over the ocean this time, and after a few hours of waiting, they landed now in a place confirmed by a nearby sign in Croatia. It appears that the area where they stopped at was an old power station. As everyone else before Lora descended a staircase inside, however, it soon became clear that this was a clever disguise.
She followed them downstairs, into a brightly lit room. She was met with the sounds of applause, and was awestruck with the multitude of brightly-clothed people who filled the entire room. Two of them stood out in front: That same Croatian man wearing classic Men in Black attire, smiling while leaning slightly against a woman who was clad in a purple and yellow-striped latex bodysuit, complete with a gold-colored mask.
The man began, "Welcome, Ms. Jett. We knew you were coming."
"I'd be surprised if you didn't," Lora chuckled.
"I like your attitude, a lot of the women around here don't say much they're usually occupied with one another."
"Gee, thanks. Who's that standing next to you?"
The purple-clad girl began in a warm voice, "Lea, Rubber Lea. Nice to see a new heroine on the block."
The man, who Lora just now realized was Agent Rock, who she saw back on that large screen in California, continued, "Now, Lea here may not be on the good side yet, according to the police, she says that she is wanting to join us and become at least an ally."
"I'm looking forward to it, because this man enjoys seeing me so much and making portraits of me, committing crime doesn't seem as interesting as fighting crime is anymore."
Just then, Agent Rock reached into a pocket on the outside of his dark suit, handed a card of some sort to Lora, and proudly asked, "How would you like to be a member of the H.U.B.?"
"What does that stand for?"
Lea answered that, "Heroes in United Business."
Examining the business card for a moment, Lora shook her head and stated, "Thanks, but no thanks. I work alone, and my secret identity has a job back in California."
"Very well, but if you ever need backup, you know who to call. We have a whole database of certain hero teams for any mission you are in."
"Thanks, I'll remember that. But I have just one question: How did Teen Witch and Suno know where to find me when being held hostage in California?"
Lea chuckled, "Oh, a certain someone with a blue hat, green tie, and dark sunglasses called us. He seems to know you very well."
"Maybe even likes her!" Agent Rock added while nudging her in the side with his elbow.
"Eh, tell him I said I'm not interested if he comes around again. But before I go, could one of you show me some of the other people in this place?"
Lea elected, and presented Lora to just how many people were in the building: There was a team of perhaps a dozen identical blond women, only differentiating in their outfits. Each of them seemed to represent the planets of the solar system; a dark-haired woman in black who was pregnant; a few that wore multicolored-checkered suits with two-toned masks; and still more that dressed in casual attire. One prominent elastic black-haired woman in an electric blue and yellow catsuit was happily speaking to a man dressed as a motorcycle rider, which he probably was. The girl's name, in overhearing, happened to be Rita, and she was from Brazil; two more appeared to be a female android and a zombie.
Lora couldn't help pointing out, "My goodness, not a lot of men in this organization, is there?"
"I know, it is odd, isn't it? These days it appears that women are doing more of the crime-fighting than men are. I think someone once said, 'Leaving the saving the world to the men? I don't think so!' Perhaps that was taken a little too far," Lea agreed.
There were a few men around, just that very little of them stood out. Both of them did spot a camera flash in one area, with a faint patch of navy blue below it. But neither of them could tell who it belonged to.
Lora turned around and headed towards the door, but stopped and asked Agent Rock a favor: To take a picture with her, Lea, and him. He had a Polaroid, and managed to do so with its timer function. Taking out the photo, Lora admired it and said, "Oh, wait till Meredith sees this!"
She finally asked someone to take her back to Centropolis, but Agent Rock shouted, "Wait! Don't you want to see what the Asian girl you saved can do? I hear she can control darkness!
"Sorry, but my sidekick probably is worried sick about me. I need to see her again she's like a little sister to me," Ms. Jett declined the offer, and insisted for someone to take her back to California. Someone named the Color Maid elected to do so.
The two multicolored women shared a few jokes and asked about the Color Maid or Rita Winwood's background. She said that she had the power to bring drawings to life, and change the color of objects. But she was also on both sides of the law, an anti-hero, as it were.
The chopper they were in finally dropped Lora off in a corn field somehow close to her own apartment, at which point she morphed back into her secret identity's self, and began running for her apartment. At the door, Meredith was in her pink and shiny humanoid form, and was quite glad to see her again. The photo her leader held made Meredith's jaw drop in astonishment, not just by the photo, but by a somehow printed-on note that said "Welcome to the H.U.B." Somehow, Lora, or Lovergum, had just now been issued into part of the enormous superhero team nexus. But would she be a common visitor, or just as an informant?
They decided to head inside to talk it over, and at the end, Lora decided on something alarming:
"You know, all this hero business is putting me under a little bit of stress. I think it would be for the best if I quit being a superhero for a while and stick to my human life."
IS THIS THE END OF A SUPERHERO'S CAREER?