"Come on, Professor Richards! I worked real hard on all this! Ya just gonna count me out?"
Reed sighed as he sat back in his chair. He had listened to the woman before him talk for a solid twenty minutes, but nothing he had seen had actually changed his mind. They were sitting inside of his office at the university, which he had actually bothered to clean because he was teaching classes during this semester.
The woman in his office was Beatrice Whitman, a graduate student who was about to complete her Master's degree in physics. However, it was common knowledge in the department that she was the weakest candidate in the program, with her marks coming in lower than anyone had expected. She had only been saved from withdrawal by a recommendation letter from the graduate program director.
Still, she had since completed all of her degree requirements, and would receive her degree in a couple of months. In the meantime, she had applied to continue her studies in the PhD program, and had requested a meeting with Reed so that she could present her project ideas and hopefully ask him to be her supervisor.
Reed was wary of the meeting given Beatrice's academic reputation, but he was willing to at least sit down and hear her out. However, after listening to her ramble on for almost half an hour about a project idea that frankly seemed way over her head, he knew what he had to say.
"I'm sorry, Beatrice, but I'm not certain this is the best fit for either of us."
It upset Reed to know that he was ruining her plans for her future, but he also knew that taking her on as a student was too much of a risk.
"I looked over your transcripts and your previous course work. I'm sorry to say it, but I think we both know that they were concerning."
"But I was really workin' to turn that around," pleaded Beatrice. "I shaped up by the end of term. I mean, I'm gettin' my degree, right?"
"Of course you are. I never said otherwise. But the PhD program is a large investment, for the student, the supervisor and the university. We have to make sure we're taking candidates with the strongest chance of success. I listened to your whole proposal, and while the concepts have potential, that's all it is right now. Potential. I'm not sure you have a firm grasp on how you're going to accomplish what you're looking for."
Beatrice looked betrayed.
"I know this isn't what you want to hear, but my answer is no. I can't sign on as your supervisor, Beatrice. I'm sorry."
For a minute, Beatrice didn't say anything at all. She then stood up, snatched her proposal off the desk and furrowed her brow.
"You think you can just dismiss me, huh? Toss me out on my ass like I'm one of your doe-eyed, moron first years? Well fine. Be that way. Sitting there, all smug and superior."
Beatrice angrily jammed a thumb against her chest.
"Like I need you to tell me what I can do with my life!"
Reed blinked, but didn't say anything in response. Beatrice scoffed before turning around and stomping out of the his office, slamming the door behind her. Once she was out in the hall, she glanced down at her proposal. She frowned as she looked it over, finally realizing that all of her hard work on it had been for nothing.
Beatrice tore the proposal in half and tossed the remains in a nearby trash can. She then left the building, feeling utterly defeated.
Five Years Later
Loudly sighing, Beatrice fumbled through her pockets until she found her keys. She unlocked the door and stepped into the apartment. After closing the door, she looked around to see that the place was just as much of a mess as it always was. Her roommate, Adam, was laying on the couch.
"Hey," said Beatrice, her tone flat.
Beatrice walked over to the couch. Adam was watching a baseball game that was happening at a stadium in New York. She sat down next to him, and he briefly looked up at her, seeing the exhaustion in her face.
"Rough day, huh?"
"I don't wanna talk about it."
Beatrice looked over at the coffee table that was next to the couch, and saw a pizza box on it. She opened the box and found a couple extra slices still left inside. She grabbed one and started to lazily munch on it.
"You gotta get black olives every time?" she asked, before taking another bite. "Never liked 'em all that much."
"I'm always wonderin' that about you and mushrooms. What's with the mushrooms?"
"Mushrooms are actually good, though."
"Whatever," said Adam, mockingly shaking his head.
Beatrice took another bite of her pizza slice. On the television, the batter cracked a long hit, and Adam threw up his hands in excitement. A man on third base got to home plate before the other team could get the ball back to the diamond. The footage then swapped to show the crowd in attendance, who were applauding and cheering.
Amongst the people in attendance were the Fantastic Four, comprised of Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. Ben was accompanied by his girlfriend, Alicia Masters. The camera focused on them because they were the most prominent celebrities at the event. Beatrice scowled as she looked at them.
Without saying anything, she stood up and marched towards her room.
"Later, B," said Adam, without turning to look at her.
Beatrice didn't even bother responding. She entered her room and locked the door behind her. Like the rest of the apartment, her room was something of a disaster, with clothes, fast food bags and miscellaneous items strewn all over the floor. She walked over to the closet and pulled it open, revealing various outfits held up on hangers.
On the far left was a hanger with nothing on it. Beatrice tugged the hanger down, revealing it to be a lever in disguise. The back wall of the closet opened to reveal a secret elevator. She stepped inside and pushed the lone button on the side panel, which closed the wall. She had purposefully chosen her apartment to be on the ground floor, so that she could build in a secret laboratory.
The elevator lowered her into her lab, which had taken her years to set up without anyone noticing. The lab had multiple computer monitors and work stations, with her projects set up on various tables. Her gravity tech discs were on the centre table, her plasma cannon was on the left, and her violet battle dress was on the right.
However, the most intriguing project was in the corner: a three metre tall robotic dragon with purple armour plating. It was currently in sleep mode, recharging its energy. It had a long snout, silver teeth, large claws, and fully functional wings. Although she had based some of the internal mechanics on designs she stole off the internet, she was the one who decided to use them to build a dragon.
Beatrice gently touched the dragon's snout, and the red lights built into its eyes turned on. It flexed out its wings and looked at her.
"Tonight's the night," she said.
The dragon waited patiently as Beatrice pulled out her phone. She tapped a button on the screen and held the phone to her ear.
"You two in position?"
"Ready and waitin'," said a man. "Bottom of the seventh."
"We'll be there soon," she said.
"Course they was gonna win! They're my team, ain't they?"
"What about the last three games?" said Johnny.
Ben dismissively waved his hand down.
"Flukes," he said.
Johnny rolled his eyes as the Fantastic Four and Alicia exited the stadium. They were immediately swarmed by a fervent crowd of fans and journalists, all seemingly desperate for even a momentary bit of attention from the celebrity heroes. Alicia squirmed at all the noise, and Ben wrapped his arm around her and held her close so that she wouldn't get lost as they pushed through the crowd.
"We'll be outta this soon," said Ben. "Then, we're gonna celebrate the way you deserve. And that's a fact."
"Sounds wonderful," said Alicia, smiling.
"It would certainly be nice if we could go out for once without all the fanfare," said Reed.
"I could always just make us all invisible," said Susan, shrugging.
"Ya'll can keep it!" said Johnny, waving at the people. "This is my way of life!"
"Maybe we should just go ahead and sell ya off to the marketing circuit," said Ben. "We could get somebody actually useful to take your slot."
"Yeah, like who?!"
"I dunno. Ain't there tons of super-people in this city these days? Sure we could find one joker worth his salt who could . . . ."
Ben was interrupted by the sound of people screaming in terror. Hundreds of people on the street pointed into the sky, where a purple, metallic dragon was soaring through the air.
"What?!" said Susan.
"Wicked!" said Johnny.
"Fascinating," said Reed.
"Oh, ya gotta be kiddin' me," said Ben. "A dragon? This some kinda marketing gimmick?"
"A dragon?" said Alicia. "What's going on?"
The crowd split apart as the dragon flew for the ground. It landed twenty metres away from the Fantastic Four and roared at them. Alicia gasped in fear.
"Get behind us, baby," said Ben. "We'll deal with it. You'll be alright."
Ben gently pushed Alicia behind him. As the dragon clawed the ground, a man in a blue and yellow tactical combat suit stepped out of the crowd. Two electric coils extended out of his gloves, and he slashed the ground with them. He was joined by a red-haired woman in a green dress with matching fishnets that had a twelve metre long python accompanying her.
The python bared its fangs at one of the civilians, who fainted. Ben folded his arms.
"Is the circus back in town and nobody told me?"
Ben was answered by a voice he had never heard before. Susan and Johnny didn't recognize it either. However, it was one that was familiar to Reed.
"Not the circus, Ben Grimm . . . ."
The crowds watched with awe as Beatrice flew overhead. She was wearing a purple, strapless ball gown dress, with gravity discs attached to the bottom segment that allowed her to fly. She flew above the three other villains and held her clenched fists out at her sides. She widely grinned before hovering down to the ground.
"I am the Wizard, and we are the Frightful Four!"
After a silent moment, Johnny and Ben burst out laughing. Beatrice's cheeks turned red with rage.
"Now I know this is the circus," said Ben. "Cuz you guys gotta be crazy!"
"Oh, look at me everybody, I'm a wizard!" said Johnny, imitating Beatrice's voice. "Wait, you're a what?! I'm a wizard!"
Susan rubbed the back of her neck. Reed watched with concern as Beatrice puffed out her chest in frustration.
"Beatrice," said Reed. "What are you doing here?"
Susan raised an eyebrow. Johnny and Ben stopped laughing.
"Wait, you know her?" asked Susan.
"Course he knows me!" shouted Beatrice. "Rejectin' my proposal for the doctorate program, not knowin' I'd perfect my tech without his vaunted guidance! Everyone always looked down on me in that department, and no one would even talk to me after they heard he turned me down! Richards was the one who ruined my chances at an actual academic career!"
"Beatrice, you did that do yourself," said Reed, staying as calm as he could. "You simply weren't a strong enough candidate for the program. I couldn't supervise your project. It wouldn't have been right. It was nothing personal."
"Easy to say when your life wasn't affected by it at all! Mine was ruined!"
"So your revenge is putting together a team of criminals?" asked Susan.
"And lousy criminals at that," said Reed. "I've read about both of them in the news. That's Frank Payne, also known as the Constrictor. A convicted felon who's been in and out of prison, but has never accomplished anything on his own."
"You talkin' down to me?!" said Frank. "You'll pay for that one!"
"And that's Zelda DuBois, also known as Princess Python. A snake charmer who started committing robberies with her python as her accomplice."
"Someone actually knows who I am?" said Zelda, smiling.
"Another princess?" asked Johnny. "What, Anelle wasn't enough? And what about the dragon?"
"I have no idea," said Reed.
"He's mine!" shouted Beatrice. "I built him from scratch!"
Susan held up her hands.
"Wait, wait, wait, wait. So your team of supervillains is yourself, a D-list thug, a circus performer and your pet robot dragon. Wow, that's . . . . sad."
Susan started chuckling, with Johnny and Ben joining her. Frank rolled his eyes, and Zelda petted her python as she gave Beatrice an unimpressed look. Beatrice furiously growled, and responded by pulling out her handheld plasma cannon. It was a two-handed weapon that glowed orange with the superheated plasma that it generated.
"You won't be laughing when you taste a thousand degrees of plasma!"
Beatrice pulled the trigger, firing a plasma beam directly at the team. All of them leaped out of the way, except Johnny, who stood absolutely still. The plasma beam struck him in the chest, melting off all of his clothes and revealing his superhero bodysuit underneath. Beatrice lowered her gun as her jaw dropped.
"You forget, honey," said Johnny. "Heat's my thing. FLAME ON!"
Johnny's whole body erupted into flames. The Fantastic Four threw off their civilian clothes so that they could be in their bodysuits. Beatrice sneered as her battle dress equipped armour plating over itself, giving her a degree of protection. She then pointed directly at the heroes.
"Rip them apart!"
Frank fully charged up his coils, while Zelda threw her arm forward so that her snake would attack. The dragon leaped over the group as Beatrice aimed her plasma cannon at Reed. Susan threw up a spherical barrier over herself and Reed to shield them from the plasma beam. Johnny flew for the dragon, while Ben ran for the python.
"This is my sky, bolt brain," said Johnny, pointing at himself. "Get your own!"
The dragon roared and slashed its claw at him, which Johnny only barely avoided. The dragon followed up with a claw strike from its other hand, bashing Johnny downwards. On the ground, Ben tried to grab at the python, but it was far faster than he anticipated, slithering out of reach and coiling itself around his legs.
"Ey! Not fair! Ya slippery little . . . ."
Zelda swiped two fingers to the side, and the python tripped Ben over. He shouted as his face slammed against the ground. He quickly bounced back up, only for Frank to lash out at him with his coils. He wrapped the coils around Ben's body and delivered a sizable shock to him, but found that Ben didn't seem very affected by it.
"Oh, no," said Ben. "I'm gettin' electrocuted! Roll out the coffin!"
Frank raised an eyebrow. Ben then heaved his body, breaking free of the coils and throwing Frank to the ground.
Susan did a force field dash past Frank and straight towards Beatrice, but the villain's dress activated a gravity shield that absorbed Susan barrier attack. Beatrice grinned as she opened her palm, which launched a gravity wave at Susan and threw her backwards. Reed stretched back and caught Susan with his body.
Beatrice fired another plasma beam, but Susan had enough energy to once again throw up a defensive barrier. Beatrice eyes bulged.
"Stop hiding behind your girlfriend!"
"Are you going to stop hiding behind that tacky dress?" asked Susan.
"Tacky?! This is a very fashionable . . . . ERGHHHHH!"
In truth, Susan was just toying with Beatrice, giving Johnny the time he needed to get behind her. He fired a heat beam from both hands, which hit her in the back, damaging her armour and knocking her to the floor. However, she activated her gravity discs and started flying after Johnny, shooting gravity pulses from her gloved hands.
"Definitely the most well-equipped babe to chase me down!"
Ben found himself wrestling with the dragon, which was surprisingly capable of matching his strength. It opened its mouth and breathing fired on Ben, causing him to tumble backwards.
"Jeez louise! Ya actually gave him fire breath?! I'm livin' in a cartoon!"
The dragon roared as it charged for Ben, who sidestepped its attack and grabbed it around the neck, forcing it to the ground. It slashed up at him with its claw, breaking his grip. The dragon followed up by chomping down on Ben's shoulder.
"Agh! Get off me, you anime reject!"
The python suddenly wrapped its way around Reed, and opened its mouth as if it were trying to consume him. Susan instantly created a force field bubble in its mouth, rendering it unable to close its jaw. After Reed untangled himself from the python's grasp, Susan picked up the snake with a force field disc and threw it at Zelda, who gasped and massaged its head when she saw that its jaw was stuck.
Susan then lazily threw up a shield and folded her arms as Frank desperately lashed out at her with his coils. He kept trying, despite none of his attacks breaking through her barrier. Susan yawned as she watched him tire himself out. She then pushed the barrier forward, smacking him with it and toppling him over.
Susan reached down and grabbed Frank by the shoulder. She pulled him up before forming a force field around her fist. She then punched the power pack on his back with her force field glove, shattering it and draining all of the power from his suit. She lifted him on a force field disc and tossed him to the side.
Zelda frowned as Frank got off the floor. Susan glared at Zelda.
"If you go home, I'll get rid of the force field bubble."
Zelda looked at her python, who was still struggling with the bubble. Susan turned to Frank.
"And if you go home, I won't kick your ass again."
Zelda and Frank glanced at each other and shrugged simultaneously.
"Alright," they said in unison.
"Get outta here," said Susan.
Susan dissipated the bubble, and the python shook its head in confusion. Zelda and Frank then started running away. Beatrice stopped chasing Johnny as she saw them running off.
"Where are you going?! You won't get paid for this!"
"Screw you!" shouted Frank. "Ya probably couldn't pay us anyway!"
"That's besides the point . . . ."
With Beatrice distracted, Johnny flew under her and shot out one of her three gravity discs with a thin heat beam. She yelled as she fell out of the air, with her other two gravity discs keeping her only a few metres away from the ground. Johnny flew away from her, and Beatrice, too enraged to realize what she was doing, turned up the power on her plasma beam and fired a blast at him.
Johnny avoided the beam, only for it to head for Ben and the dragon. Ben dove out of the way, but the dragon didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. Beatrice loudly gasped as the beam melted a hole straight through the dragon's chest, causing it to collapse on the pavement.
"GILBERT!" shouted Beatrice.
Reed, Susan and Johnny regrouped. A tear fell out of Beatrice's eye as she looked down at her destroyed dragon. She then clenched her teeth and aimed the plasma cannon at the team. Reed's eyes widened when he saw that the lights on the plasma cannon were flickering on and off.
"Susan! Contain it! It's about to overload!"
Before Beatrice could pull the trigger, Susan used a force field bubble to rip the plasma cannon out of her grasp.
"Hey! Gimme that! It's mine!"
Susan ignored Beatrice and threw the force field bubble upwards and expanded it. A few seconds later, the plasma cannon exploded inside of the bubble. Beatrice slumped her shoulders.
"Beatrice, you fool!" said Reed. "I told you that you didn't have a firm grasp on the concepts you wanted to work on! But you went ahead and did it anyway! Plasma is a complex material, and you tried to weaponize it without even fully understanding what you were trying to do!"
Beatrice nervously scratched the side of her head.
"And you recklessly endangered everyone here because you went in over your head. For what? To get revenge on me for your failures?"
Ben walked up besides Beatrice and picked her up her right leg. She screamed as he held her upside down.
"So what are we doin' with her, egghead?"
"I have an idea."
A couple minutes later, people on the street were laughing at Beatrice as they walked past. Reed had removed the last two gravity discs from Beatrice's dress, placing one on the ground and the other on a street light. She was being held upside down and in place by the gravity well created between the two discs, and desperately flailed about, unable to break free.
The Fantastic Four all smiled in satisfaction as she swung her fists in vain.
"Let me down, Richards!"
"I think we're gonna leave you there for a while," said Reed. "So you can think things through."
"You really couldn't get anyone better for your villain team?" asked Susan.
"No one else wanted anything to do with me," she admitted. "I tried to get Doctor Doom and some of the other big shots, but they all turned me down."
"Ever think maybe you're just a loser?" asked Johnny.
"Hang in there, Wizard," said Ben.
"We have another function we have to get to," said Reed. "Please excuse us."
The four heroes turned around and walked away. Beatrice started screaming at them.
"I swear, Richards! When I get outta here, I'll pulverize the lot of ya! You'll all regret what ya did to me! I'll get a better team next time! Improve my tech! My next robot will be huge! Ya ain't heard the last of me! Guys! You can still hear me, right? Right? Ugh . . . ."
Beatrice winced in pain.
"I'm gettin' dizzy," she said. "Anyone wanna help? Get me down? Hello?"
A random pedestrian threw an empty pop can at her head.
After retrieving Alicia, the Fantastic Four made their way to the restaurant they had already picked out. Herbie was waiting for them. Despite Beatrice's interruption, they still managed to make it to their reservation on time. They enjoyed their dinner, Reed explained more about who Beatrice was and where she came from, and at the end of it all, the waiters brought out a birthday cake with Alicia's name on it.
"Happy birthday, doll," said Ben.
Alicia smiled as she blew out her candles. The group then posed for a picture, which perfectly captured the joy they shared as a family.