General Abe Manning was ready for the Soviets. He knew the Reds would someday attack the USA directly or indirectly, and he knew with equal certainty that his base would be prepared for anything they could pull. This ironclad certainty was part of the reason the tough old soldier was caught completely off-guard when an attack did come, but from a very unexpected source.
The quiet of military routine was shattered one morning when three giants in tunics smashed through the gates and began to break down everything they could get their gnarled hands around. They were thorough, and they were ruthless. They were clearly enjoying the destruction they were causing, and, in spite of the fact that each of them only possessed one large, centrally located eye, they didn’t miss much.
In a matter of minutes the base was a shambles, and several dozen soldiers had been battered or broken with ease. With equal speed, the monsters had ambled away, and the quiet of military routine had returned. However, an angry and shocked General Manning still had duties to perform.
He picked up a phone and made a call to a special address where, in a matter of moments, he was speaking in emotional tones to a man who was better equipped to handle attackers out of myth.
“Sarge Steel? This is Manning,” he said in a broken voice. “We need help. We need help from your Sentinels!”
The taciturn government agent known as Sarge Steel replied briskly, then turned to his latest lovely assistant. “Betty, call in the action-heroes,” he said. “I think we’ve got a whopper this time!”
Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, a grim woman with steel-gray hair shook her head in disgust as she read a report.
“Again we are plagued by the juvenile rebels of Soyuz,” she said. “They escape from every agent we send after them. Again and again, they succeed in protecting the citizens better than our own law enforcement agency. I fear they are winning the hearts and minds of the public!”
A powerfully built man with a blond crewcut and a brown uniform slammed his fist down on a table, breaking it into splinters.
“I tell you the People’s Heroes will break those brats in time!” he cried. “We will reclaim our rightful place as the USSR’s rightful champions!”
Madame Sarnov smiled coldly and said, “What of the other threat of the nation? What of the monster called Pozhar? You have also failed to bring in the so-called fire elemental.”
“Vigilantes and monsters will never stand against our might,” replied Boris Badnov, known as Hammer of the People’s Heroes. “Let me reclaim the role of leader from Redstar! He is soft!”
“I will withhold that option for now,” replied Madame Sarnov. “He is a true veteran. For now let him lead, but I summoned you here to order you to end the reign of Soyuz and the menace of Pozhar. If you can do so by any means, even those frowned upon by the more moralistic Redstar, then do so! You will be rewarded!”
Hammer smiled and said, “Da! It shall be done!”
Departing, he swiftly returned to the headquarters of the People’s Heroes and rejoined his wife. The beautiful and powerful Tasha embraced him passionately and listened with interest as he told her of their orders.
Raising a gleaming, bladed weapon, she said, “Your faithful wife stands ready to aid you in destroying our foes!”
Hammer nodded at the woman called Sickle and said, “As it should be, my love. As it should be!”
A dark-haired woman entered silently with the grace of the superb athlete she had been, and said, “Pretty words, comrades. Still, it will take more than your brutal energy to win the day. I have a plan!”
Hammer nodded and said, “Very well, Pravda. You are the intellectual. What do you suggest we do?”
Pravda smiled and said, “We give the merry mutants of Soyuz something they won’t be able to resist.”
Hammer frowned and said, “What? I do not understand your cryptic words!”
Pravda place one gloved hand across his brawny shoulder and whispered, “Why, we give them a new recruit who shall lead us directly to their hidden lair!”
Laughter filled the room as the team listened to the mysterious mentalist.
If you were the CEO and brand personality of a huge company, as well as a TV star with a line of videos, workout clothes, and skincare products, you could pretty much pick and choose the time of day you pampered yourself.
Thus, it had been a simple matter for the bubbly blonde Debbie Huston to arrange for the Faces beauty salon to close down for the afternoon in order to cater to some rather unique guests.
The lovely tall blonde wore a pink robe as she sat in a chair while an attendant placed cucumber slices over her eyes. She sighed in contentment and said, “I hope you girls are having fun. I figured this was the least I could do after you saved me from that stalker!”
The stalker story was pure drivel. Debbie had made it up to explain away her connection to some rather celebrated action-heroines. After all, she couldn’t let the spa employees known the queen of aerobics was actually an action-heroine known as Guardian. She was treating some of her teammates to a beauty day, and they readily played along with the ruse that they only knew her through their crime-fighting and not as a partner.
Nearby, a lovely girl with short black hair cut into bangs smiled appreciatively as she received a pedicure. Tomorrow Woman, alias Alice Medley, seemed like a gorgeous young woman with a warm smile and a quick sense of humor. However, in truth the personal assistant to Ted Kord, the alter ego of the Blue Beetle, was a remarkably advanced artificial being whose synthetic body mimicked real human flesh, bone, blood, and tissue with an accuracy that defied modern science. When this was combined with the fact that her brain was filled with detailed false memories and emotional attachments to a fictional family, as well as genuine emotions and preferences and dislikes for things as mundane as certain foods, various singers, and different types of shoes, it became all too clear that Alice was a real woman in every sense of the word except for the most literal.
Thus she relished being pampered, and she experienced the whole day’s sensations like any other woman. She had accepted her true nature, although she still shuddered when she recalled how her creator, the sinister Alistair Thomas Kord, had planned to dismantle her for his own scientific projects until his son Ted had defied him and secured her status as an independent being by having her join the Sentinels of Justice as Tomorrow Woman. This action caused his father to ban him from the company property and to confiscate the flying craft called the Bug, which Ted used in his Blue Beetle identity.
“You take your metal girlfriend and get out,” Alistair had yelled with finality, according to her nearly perfect memory. “You don’t work here anymore. You don’t set foot on my property. For that matter, don’t even think about taking the Bug out. I own it, too. It is based on my designs. Try to take it, and I’ll phone twice. I’ll call my lawyer, then I’ll alert the media to the true identity of the Blue Beetle.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Action-Hero Team-Up: Blue Beetle and Booster Gold: Tomorrow Never Knows, Chapter 3: Tomorrow Woman.]
Now, Alice tried to forget the bad times as she stepped into a changing room and then emerged in her costume. She now wore a fluffy white miniskirt like a small tutu with a gold V-shape on the front. Her bustier was green with gold trim, and her thigh-high, high-heeled boots were green, as was her cape and the small trim kid gloves on her hands.
“Thank you sooo much, Miss Huston!” she said. “This has been a rare treat!” She added inwardly, I’m not even kidding! Even when I was working at KORD Inc., I rarely splurged on something like this! I guess my fun money always went for new shoes!
Nearby pouted a lovely exotic woman who was strikingly beautiful in a garish way. Her long red hair cascaded down on each side of her delicate but rather hungry features. She was deathly pale, and her ruby red lips contrasted greatly with her inhuman pallor. She wore a red gown whose high-laced bodice rather demurely contrasted with the slits at each leg that revealed well-formed limbs above high-heeled red boots with gold braid. As she yawned, she revealed two fangs, and she did little to conceal her own emotions. Monica Lake had been an actress scrambling for work on cable TV in a horror anthology show where she played the sultry vampiric hostess Countess Von Bludd, when a burst of raw magical energy had literally transformed her stage makeup and wig into her real skin and hair. (*) She was subsequently unable to change her look, and thus beauty treatments did little for her altered skin or hair. The Countess, as she was now known, sulked with ill humor as she watched the others.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Sentinels of Justice: Invaded by Magic, Chapter 1: Transformations.]
Then her expression changed abruptly as a big glob of goo struck her in the face. She sputtered in frustration as her companion reached over and dropped a towel over her head in a playful gesture.
“Lighten up, Countess!” admonished the ever-mischievous Felina as the tawny furred cat-woman curled up across a sofa. The former supermodel Matty Lopez had also been transformed by the magical energy that had given Monica Lake the powers, if not the cravings and weaknesses of a vampire. But Matty — or Fifi, as she insisted on being called — relished being a super-agile, strong, were-woman. Indeed, her newly washed and styled fur gleamed with a golden hue as she laughed at her angry friend.
The Countess scowled from underneath the wet towel and said nothing, but she had to fight to hide her own smile. Fifi was so good-natured and full of humor that even the spoiled Miss Lake couldn’t resist her attempts to cheer her up.
The final woman had not taken part in the spa treatment except for a massage, since she had no desire to let the attendant see that her platinum blonde hair was really a wig concealing a sassy shorter brown hairdo. Candy Deane was famous in her own right as a prodigy who had worked in numerous fields, from space science to modeling to business. Now, as head of her own modeling agency, she divided her time and talents between a daily routine in high fashion and action-heroine thrills as the star-spangled sensation known as Liberty Belle.
She frowned as she detected a commotion outside the shop and said, “Ladies, I think duty calls!” Slipping on her high-heeled shoes, she adjusted her red, white, and blue minidress and mask as she jumped to her feet.
“Belle’s right!” cried Fifi. “The sidewalk is full of frightened folks!”
Debbie nodded and said, “You girls do what you have to do! I’ll just settle up here and head home!”
As the Sentinels rushed out of the spa, Debbie paid the bill and then slipped out the back to change into the tiara, gloves, belt, and blue and red costume of the Guardian. She would join her pals as quickly as she could. That took little time, since the belt allowed her to fly.
Soaring over the spa, the Guardian landed as she spotted the others locked in combat with a flock of wicked-looking bird-women. Goodness! she thought with a grin. Those things could use a real makeover!
The female members of the Sentinels of Justice had discovered the source of the chaos to be a horde of cackling, screeching creatures who combined female heads and upper bodies with the lower torsos of pinioned birds.
“Harpies!” gasped Liberty Belle as she recognized the mythical creatures and ordered the others into action. “T.W., use your TK shields to protect the fleeing crowd. Fifi, can you get to the high ground? Countess, perhaps a bat form would be best for you!”
The others nodded as they obeyed the more-experienced heroine. Liberty Belle was, in truth, a mutant who could effortlessly grasp almost any known skill in minutes. This made her the most well-rounded of the group.
Fifi followed the acrobatic Belle as she leaped into the air and swung herself up and over the spa awning to get closer to the swirling harpies. Catlike agility gives me an edge, but Belle’s nearly as good! she thought.
The Countess had transformed into a bat and now swooped directly at the nearest harpy. She dodged a talon as the creature swiped at her, and she managed to lead two of the smelly creatures into a collision before dodging them both.
Fifi pounced off the roof and swiftly wrapped her legs around a harpy as she climbed aboard its back. “Can you take me downtown? Oh, and do avoid the midday traffic!” she said in a mocking tone.
Liberty Belle had followed suit and now clung to another harpy and shifted her weight from side to side to avoid the foul creature’s attempts to slam her body into a wall or flagpole.
The Guardian appeared and punched a harpy with her own glove-enhanced strength and sent the bird-woman crashing to the ground. “What do they want?” she cried. “I mean, all they’ve done is create panic!”
Belle nodded as she ducked below a harpy’s snarling attempt to claw her. “I may be wrong, but I’d say they’re not here for a day’s shopping. I think sowing panic is their sole goal!”
Tomorrow Woman gently lifted a falling man to his feet with a telekinetic boost, then joined the others in the air. “I can contain them with a big TK field, but I honestly doubt I can hold them long!” she said as she lifted herself skyward with a mental push.
“Go for it!” said Belle. “Girls, on my signal — scatter!”
As the platinum-blonde patriot waved one hand, the team obeyed and hurled themselves away from the cluster of harpies.
Tomorrow Woman concentrated and created a mental field that drew the screeching harpies together. “Got them!” she said. “But… oh, dear, I’m starting to lose my hold on them!”
Guardian nodded with understanding as Liberty Belle waved her over. “My own TK power can boost your efforts until I can bring them all down at once!” she cried. Bending down, she uprooted a telephone pole and swung it down to connect with the tightly bottled up monsters. They collapsed to the ground, and she sighed with relief.
Fifi bounced down to examine the fallen bird-women. “Smells like chicken!” she said with a shrug.
Liberty Belle nodded and said, “You’re on a diet. Besides, I think we’d better get these things to Project X!”
Fifi agreed and thought, She’s right. Our satellite headquarters has the equipment needed to contain and examine them. I mean, we need to know if they’re altered victims or real, honest-to-Harryhausen monsters!