It was a regular day at work.  We were planning to do a solo bedroom shoot with Connie, a tall, leggy blonde with nice curves.  Sheri, an athletic brunette, had come in to pick up a check I owed her, and she and Connie had gotten into some silly fight.  Frank, my personal assistant and part-time photographer, just stood back and smiled as they went from sniping at each other to yelling.  I don’t even know what it was about, but before they could start hitting each other (or pulling hair, or whatever), I stepped in.  Pretty shortly, we had a girl-girl shoot going.  That kind of anger, it makes for some interesting photos.

Things were going great.  Frank and Bill, my other photographer, were both working hard.  Bill was doing video, Frank was shooting stills; it’s a technique that works real well for us.  I was directing, of course.  Bill was really enjoying it, I could tell; Frank is a bit more technical about it, which isn’t surprising since he’s gay.  Sarah walked in, quietly of course since we were doing video.  “Wow, this is going to be hot,” she whispered.

“It’s pretty hot now,” I replied quietly, grinning.

“No, silly, on the website,” she said, looking at me.  “Hey, you don’t look so good.”

“Oh,” I said.  “I’ve been so wrapped up in the shoot that I didn’t notice, but now that you say it, no, I don’t feel so good either.  Kinda achy, throat’s scratchy.”  I tapped Frank on the shoulder, and told him, “I’m feeling a little under the weather, so I’m going home.  Take over for me.”

I went straight home, took a quick shower, and sat down on the couch with a tall glass of juice to watch TV.  I had forgotten what day it was… the news was all about the ceremony at Ground Zero.

“These men were gifted with extraordinary powers,” said the President, indicating the heroes standing on the platform behind him (except for Thunder, who of course was in a wheelchair). “It’s easy to forget that they, too, are mortal. On September 11th, 2001, these men you see before you took extraordinary risks to stop Flight 175. One made an extraordinary sacrifice. Thanks to their actions, more than two thousand lives were saved. We are here this day to honor them.” The President turned toward the three best-known heroes of 9/11, the Doorman, Lightning, and Thunder. “Gentlemen, these medals are long overdue, for which I must apologize.” He put a medal on the Doorman first; I liked how the gold glittered against his dark blue uniform. The gold went less well with Lightning’s yellow and orange. Thunder’s uniform was, of course, the same colors in an opposite pattern. The cameraman dropped back for a dramatic shot of the remaining tower as the President stooped to put the medal on him.

I watched the whole thing, even though it wasn’t very interesting to me.  I hate to admit that, but it was true.  I just was too tired to pick up the remote and change the channel.  But I was very interested when, after the ceremony was over, the reporter interviewed Thunder and Lightning.

“Is it true, Thunder, that you and your brother will be moving to San Francisco?” she asked.

“Yes, Monica, that’s right,” he answered.  I was surprised that he looked so good, having been in a wheelchair for so many years.  “I’ll be receiving experimental treatments there.  They hope to restore my spinal cord enough that I might be able to walk.”

“Maybe even run?” she continued.  I didn’t like the rude question, or the predatory look she had on her face.  The poor man had been able to run faster than the speed of sound before the terrorist shot him; the least she could do would be to pretend she cared.

Lightning evidently felt the same way, because he broke in.  “It’s a lot to hope for, but then we’ve never let ourselves lose hope.”

“But do you think it’s wise to allow yourself to be experimented on by a self-proclaimed mad scientist?” she asked Thunder, ignoring his brother.

“Doctor Hyde’s therapists all agree that he is well enough to continue his research,” replied Thunder, forcefully.  “He hopes that my unique metabolism will teach him things about neural regeneration that might benefit all mankind.  Whatever risks I might be taking, I’m happy to take.”

I finally found the strength to turn off the TV, so I didn’t have to hear Monica’s snarky reply.  After a while I drank the last of the juice, dragged myself to the bathroom, got into my pajamas, and then fell into bed.

Sometime in the night I woke up from some horrible dream I can’t recall now.  I was burning up, so terribly sick, and I knew I had to call someone.  911.  I just needed my phone… which was across the room on my dresser.  It was all I could do to stand up, and I made it maybe halfway before I fell down.  I was so terrified… I couldn’t even raise my hand.  Then I passed out, and mercifully I didn’t dream anymore.

I woke up to the sound of someone pounding on my door and yelling.  I was still lying on the floor, and I felt weak; my vision was blurry.  But I was strong enough to stand up.  I was naked… I decided I must have taken my pajamas off in the night.  I grabbed my bathrobe and put it on, rubbing my bleary eyes, and went to the door.

It was Frank.  When I opened the door, he just stood there, staring.  “Good Lord, girl, what happened to you?”

“I was sick,” I said, “but I feel better now.”  In fact, every moment I felt better and better, stronger and clearer and like everything was wonderful.

“Did it fall out, or what?” he said, pointing at my head.  I raised my hand and discovered my hair was all gone.  Eyebrows too.

I think I screamed.

Frank said, “Shh, dear, it’ll be alright.”

“Frank, what am I going to DO?” I said.

“Well, for a start, you could let me in.” I hadn’t even thought about it… I wondered if any of my neighbors were home to hear me screaming.

I stepped back and waved him in.  “Maybe my hair is with my pajamas,” I said, hoping a little humor would make me feel better.  He followed me back to the bedroom, and for a moment we both stood there speechless.

There on the floor was my silhouette, scorched and melted into the carpet.

“Did you do that?” he said, finally.

“I guess,” I replied, a little shaky.  “Last night I felt like I was burning up.  Maybe I was.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Fine.  Strong.  Ready to take on the world,” I replied.  “Except that I’m bald.  Aaah! I can’t be bald!”

“Relax, dear, I know a good wigmaker.”

“You’re a good friend,” I said.  “I think I need a shower.”

“Yes, you do smell like burning carpet,” he replied.  I dropped my bathrobe on the bed and headed for the bathroom.  Modesty is silly for someone like me, and anyway I wasn’t his type.  I guess I tended to treat Frank like one of the girls.

I like my showers hot, so I always start the water running full hot and hold my hand under it, then turn it back when it gets too hot.  This time, it didn’t get too hot, so I left it on full.  But I got in and got clean, faster than usual since I didn’t have all that blonde hair to wash.  While I showered, Frank was talking.  “We got worried when it was past noon and nobody had heard from you,” he said.  “I tried to call you several times, and Sarah and I both sent you texts.  When nobody could get ahold of you, I got worried, so I came over.”

“Well, I guess I’m alright,” I said, turning off the water.  The knob twisted off in my hand.  “I guess I need a plumber,” I continued, “since the water heater isn’t working right and I just broke the faucet.”  I stepped out and tossed the knob to him.

“Ow, that’s hot,” he said, dropping it in the sink.

“Wimp,” I said, slapping him gently on the cheek.

“You’re hot too,” he said.

“I didn’t think you liked girls,” I said, giving him a sidelong look.

“No, dear, I mean you’re really hot.  Your skin is hot.”

“Really?” I said, rubbing my arm.  “I don’t feel hot to me.”

He looked at me, puzzled, then turned the hot water on in the sink.  He stuck his hand under it, then pulled it out quickly.  “Ouch, that’s hot.  See what you think of it.”

I put my hand under it.  It felt warm to me, and I said so, turning it off.

“Well, it felt hot to me,” he said.  It was my turn to look puzzled.  I know I did, because I could see myself in the mirror.

I threw the towel over the rod and walked past him, a little irritated I think; I stubbed my bare toes on the doorframe trying to pass him in the confined space.  I waited for the pain, but it didn’t come.  I wiggled my toes, incredulous.

“Polly, I felt that through the floor,” Frank said.  “You kicked that hard.  Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No, it doesn’t,” I replied.  I pinched my arm, hard, but it just stung a little.  The spot wasn’t even red when I quit.  I looked at Frank.  “Slap me.”  He looked uncertain, so I said it again, and that time he did it.  I felt it, but it didn’t hurt.  “No, slap me hard,” I said, and he slapped a little harder.  Still no pain.  “Slap me like you mean it,” I said.

Frowning, he drew back and hit me.  I saw him put his whole arm into it; my head rocked sideways just a little bit, and my face stung for just a moment.  No real pain, though.

“Ow!” he yelled, shaking his hand.  After a moment he said, “I think that hurt me more than you.”

I smiled.  “I guess so.”

“You know what this means, don’t you?  You’re a superhero.”  After a moment’s thought, he said, “Well, I guess you’re a hero.  You’re not going to go bad on us and be a villain or something, are you?”

I laughed.  “Me, a superhero?  I don’t think so.  What would the Metahuman League say if a porn producer showed up and wanted to join?  D’you think the Western Titans want someone like me on the team?  No, Frank, I’m going to get dressed, get a wig, and go to work like every other day, and you’re going to keep my secret like the good friend you are.  I’m no hero.”

I wiggled my toes; they felt fine.