Landing on the front sidewalk, Nucleus and Raven entered a Manhattan skyscraper. They joined their massive partner, Hercules, who was already waiting. He dominated the center of the lobby like a mountain rising from a plain. Hercules was dressed casually in gray pants, black boots, a Marines T-shirt, and a black leather jacket. But his size left no doubt as to who he was.
Both Raven and Nucleus were garbed in their very different looking, though both metallic, suits of armor. Raven’s all black suit was far more elaborately designed, topped with a full helmet intricately carved to look like a demonic bird of prey. Nucleus wore no head gear at all, but his fiery red skin, crystal blue eyes, and glowing golden hair were all the more striking. His golden armor was more functional, once a containment suit. Their metal heels clacked somewhat loudly crossing the marble floor.
“Entering target. No contact. Destination: tenth floor,” Raven stated, her voice synthesized to a neutral, unnerving machine tone by her armor’s internal microphone.
Nucleus asked, “We’ve definitely got the right place?”
Turning to his two teammates, Hercules nodded and said, “Let’s go.”
Raven waved his arm towards the bank of elevators. “After you, gentlemen.”
Leading the way, Hercules entered the elevator. He punched the tenth floor and the cage began to rise.
Nucleus glanced up at Hercules. “You weren’t a tad bit conspicuous back there? No one could miss you crowding the center of the lobby like that.”
At 6’8” Hercules always stood out. He shrugged. “Best approach is the direct one.”
“I know some theoreticians who’d disagree. I could show you the statistics,” Nucleus commented. A former nuclear physicist, he often played the stuffy scientist as a joke these days.
“You do and I’ll break their clipboards.”
Hercules smiled. They were old friends. They had fought alongside each other for years. All the Guardians used humor to lighten the mood when things were tough. Now, with Pirate and Pete Brothers missing in action, and the very dangerous, once almost omnipotent Gary Justice and his gang on the rampage, things couldn’t be more tense.
Nucleus was ready for some action. Like Raven had said only three days before, it had been terribly slow lately– and Nucleus hated to slow down. But not just because he was bored. It made him think too much about the past. And when he remembered…. As soon as the image of his wife’s face appeared in his mind, he ended the vision. He did not want to remember now. It hurt too much.
Realizing how much had changed in the past few days, he thought, Better watch out what I wish for.
The cage stopped on the seventh floor and the doors opened. A strikingly beautiful young lady entered. She was small, fit, with a long flow of blonde hair spilling down her back. Something was familiar about her, but Hercules could not put his finger on it.
“Excuse us, miss, but we have very important business to attend to upstairs and it could be quite dangerous. Would you please wait and we will send the elevator back down. In fact it may be appropriate to leave the building via the stairwell, in case of power failure,” Raven stated firmly in her clipped, formal way. She activated something inside and her Guardians badge illuminated on her left breastplate.
Hercules smiled at the young woman, trying not to let his impatience show. He had to fight an urge just to shove the lady back out of the elevator. They were pressed for time and anxious to follow through on this lead, as their teammates’ lives may literally hang on each second lost. They simply did not have the time to waste with pleasantries. Despite himself, he managed, “Could you step back, please?”
“Well,” the young lady sighed softly, turning her face towards Hercules. She wet her lips and smiled. The smile was a heart-stopper. “I guess I can wait, but I really don’t mind riding with you. Say, aren’t you those super powerful heroes on the news?” She reached out and touched Hercules lightly on his thick wrist.
That touch felt like the hot kiss of electricity to a man who was impervious to any form of physical harm.
“Y-yes,” Hercules stammered, and wondered why. He felt lightheaded, and overpoweringly attracted to this young lady.
The doors closed behind the woman who could have easily been a fashion model if she so chose.
Nucleus felt it too. One moment they were on their way to track down a tip, the next… the next moment he was falling in love with a strange woman. Like a sleepwalker awakening, he suddenly found himself wondering how he had been thinking of doing anything except be with this woman. Nucleus shook his head, creating a sparkling shower of static electricity around his shoulders. This girl was gorgeous, even more beautiful than Issynjer — he caught himself and swore silently as a feeling like ice water flowed through his veins. How can I desecrate your memory, my wife?
Something was definitely up.
Raven felt a strange tingle in her mind and a faint stirring of both anger and attraction towards the young lady. The raven suit was automatic and she suddenly noticed the interior sidebar readout beside her eyes detail the activation of the suit’s gas seals. She shook her head as the helmet vented and purified the air inside. For good measure, she activated her psychic screens as well. Just as soon as it had started, the weird feeling ended.
Suddenly Raven realized exactly who the lady was: Christine Adams, the criminal known in the media as Seductress. Seductress had been one of the criminals who escaped with Justice when he destroyed the prison.
Raven whipped into action. She shoved the stupefied Hercules out of the way and slapped Nucleus. “It’s Seductress, Guardians! Snap out of it!”
Nucleus nodded slightly, understanding within his eyes. But he did not move. His body refused.
Seductress laughed. “You can’t help them, Raven. I don’t know why you aren’t under my spell, but Wildchild’ll fix that.”
Raven turned her sharp-beaked helmet to glare at Seductress and snapped, “I will fix you, and that will fix them. And don’t think I have qualms about hitting a lady.”
Raven raised her fist and swung at Seductress.
The fist stopped dead in midair. Hercules had suddenly grabbed her just above the elbow and stopped the swing effortlessly.
“What? Hercules, let go.”
His one eye was dull, not right. He looked down at her with a stony face. “Lay off, Raven. I don’t want to hurt you,” he warned.
“That’s right, Hercules, Raven’s hurting me! Stop him! Stop him!” Seductress shouted, pointing at Raven.
Despite the fact that Seductress, as many people did, mistakenly thought the armored suit’s wearer was a male, Raven didn’t have time to ponder the situation.
Hercules glanced at Seductress, a lopsided smile on an indecisive face. Her look answered his question. He swung at Raven, but slowly as if fighting his own arm. Though she quickly dodged backwards, she knew Hercules’ incalculable strength. Even a clumsy swing could be devastating if it landed.
With no choice, Raven retaliated with a series of lightning quick jabs to Hercules’ midsection. Despite her armor’s great augmentation of her own strength, the blows had no apparent effect.
Nucleus stood dazed, watching.
The doors of the elevator opened onto the tenth floor. The hulking, long-haired, feral figure of Lucas Wilde, Wildchild, stood before them. The shaggy-maned giant sneered at the elevator-bound Guardians.
“Lunch,” he growled.
“Get Raven, ‘Child. I have the rest,” Seductress ordered, quickly leaving the elevator and backing out of the way. “Hit Raven!” she screamed back at Hercules.
Hercules tried to strike Raven again, but succeeded only in punching a hole through the back of the elevator car.
Raven knew she could not survive a direct fight with Hercules, much less when combined with Wildchild. She just thanked her stars the nuclear-powered Nucleus hadn’t been fully enslaved. Then we’d all be dead. My only chance is to get them away from her.
Hercules was blocking the exit. Going through the roof might snap the cable. There was only one way out that could save them all. Raven grabbed Nucleus’s wrist and then launched herself forward at full thrust. She caught Hercules in the stomach with his left shoulder, wrapping him with that arm.
The three rocketed out into the corridor and collided with Wildchild as he leapt forward. Due to the impact, Hercules’ massive body fell off her shoulder, knocking Wilde back into the wall. Raven, dragging only Nucleus now, ricocheted off the two giants into a wall. She stumbled and, off balance from the force of the collisions, almost fell to the floor. She dropped Nucleus in the process.
“Stop them!” Seductress screamed, blonde hair swirling.
Lucas Wilde sprang for Raven, claws and fangs bared, but succeeded in only grabbing her lower legs. He twisted and wrenched and succeeded in toppling Raven. Clawing his way up the back of her armored body, Wildchild slammed his fist down onto Raven’s helmeted head. For all his superstrength, the blow bounced off with disappointing ease.
Raven rammed her elbow back into Wilde’s face, struggling to escape his grasp. She was able to twist onto his back. Now facing the ugly giant, she had a better chance. At least she could see what he was doing.
He sneered and then spit in her face.
Her black-armored right fist smashed repeatedly into the man’s face at an amazing speed.
“Christ!” Wilde groaned, head jerking back spastically. The skin of his face began to pulp and split. He finally got his hands in the way and blocked most of Raven’s blows.
Seductress ran over to the stunned Hercules. Her psychopheromone powers at maximum, she said, “Get up! Kill Raven! Now!”
Hercules rose and ran towards Raven and Wildchild. Raven, through the use of her augmented speed, managed to squirm out of Wilde’s grasp and stumbled upright. She slammed her booted foot into Wilde’s bloody face to keep him down.
Raven looked up just in time to receive an incredible blow from Hercules. Raven flew backwards and crashed along one of the walls, showering plaster, before finally coming to a stop twenty feet down the corridor when her helmet and arm gouged a long hole in the wall.
Wilde now rose, wiping his bloodied face, and joined Hercules. Raven regained her feet and looked down the hall at the two approaching giants. There was no way she could survive their combined strength. She swore silently to herself.
She called, “Nucleus, are you okay?”
Raven received no answer. She looked past Hercules and Wildchild and saw Nucleus standing beside Seductress. The beautiful witch’s hands were on his gold and red armored shoulders. “Dammit!” They hadn’t even begun to make headway into finding their missing teammates and already they were down half a team. This was turning into a disaster.
Raven turned and saw where the corridor reached the side of the building with a floor-to-ceiling spanning window. Hercules and Wildchild were almost on top of her.
“Sorry, guys. I’ll be back,” she promised, and rocketed through the window.
Raven erupted from the tenth floor of the skyscraper with a shower of glass. Arcing up into the sky, her midnight-black form flashed away like her namesake.
Inside, Hercules and Wilde reached the window and looked out after Raven’s vanishing figure. Seductress chuckled and stroked Nucleus’s hot, red-skinned cheek. She looked into his arctic blue eyes, such a strange contrast to his radioactive skin, and smiled. He returned her smile.
All is going according to Justice’s plan, she thought. He will be pleased. Then she laughed. She kissed Nucleus lightly on the lips. His lips burned hers feverishly. A hotty for Justice. But what of my plans? I can have my cake and eat it too. Why not enjoy the spoils of war? Justice may be pleased with my victory, but not as much as I will be!
She looked toward Hercules, her eyes sparkling with joy. “Two new toys.”
Seductress looked up into his strong-jawed, manly face. She looked into his one dark black eye. Where did that wound come from? She wondered. What could have harmed him? Isn’t he the strongest man alive? She shivered at the thought.
Hercules stared back without blinking. It was obvious that he did not fear anything. This was something she had honestly never seen before. Seductress narrowed her eyes. These men are strong. Stronger than any I have known. I will have to keep them totally under my control, for their wills are not easily kept. She stroked his massively muscled arms and chest. It was like touching the side of a building. My lord. What is this man made of? Then she smiled wickedly. I will just have to find out.
She glanced out the shattered window into the thin air. One of those Guardians got away, and knowing them, time was of the essence. She turned abruptly and started to walk back to the elevator. “Come on boys.”
Lucas Wilde glowered down at her diminutive figure. He watched her walk away. He liked her– in fact he loved her– but she had already let it be known that she didn’t like him. They were teammates and nothing else. Well, she’ll get hers. Sooner or later, he thought to himself. And I’ll be there.
Wildchild smiled jaggedly.
Seductress could feel men, always knew their presence when near even if she didn’t see them. She could sense them, their turmoil of emotions and desires, even though she wasn’t a real telepath. She hadn’t gotten far before she knew something was wrong. She whirled around.
Lucas Wilde had his hands against Hercules’ back at the shattered window. He was about to shove the giant out.
“Lucas! What the hell are you doing?” she yelled, rushing down the ruined hallway. “Justice wants them alive. As pawns. You know that!”
Wilde grumbled something about crazy game-playing Christine. He shoved with all his might.
Christine screamed and grabbed frantically for Hercules’ hand. She tried to pull him back from the ledge of the window. But he was already tumbling out. Hercules’ heavy bulk almost pulled her off her feet and through the window as well.
“Oh my, God!” she gasped, wavering on the edge.
Wildchild grabbed her shoulder and steadied her. Her mouth was open in breathless horror.
They both watched as the mighty Hercules fell headlong down into the street, his body dwindling into the vast canyon between buildings ten stories deep.
~ FINI ~
or as they say in superherodom
TO BE CONTINUED….