Two people in nicely tailored suits, a man and a woman, sat together at a large table, a pile of papers in front of them. The woman had brown hair and tanned skin, sitting up straight as a spear. “This just in,” she said, “Shooting Star saves a train with brake failure. What do you think of that, Zlatan?”
Behind the two of them was a large screen, playing images of a woman with blue-white hair and of course a form-fitting bodysuit and mask. She was flying through the air among various skyscrapers, or shown fighting various different sorts of things. A blue glow shone around her as she flew, and occasionally she would toss a ball of energy at something. The actual impact of the projectile was rarely captured.
The man had seafoam green skin and yellow hair. “As always, Gerda, I’m amazed by her ability to keep going. It’s almost like she and her team are everywhere, keeping New Bay safe from every threat imaginable. Just yesterday the Star Squad tracked down the last of the monsters that came through Doctor Doomsday’s portals.”
“That’s right. It seems like Shooting Star is on the rise. I’m glad we can feel safe with her protecting us. And now for a word from our sponsors.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what?” responded Sameera.
That was a good question. There were so many things. “Why are they showing two people talking instead of the superhero? They’re blocking the screen. And they don’t even really show her doing anything.”
“Well, they can’t always show the impact of her attacks,” Sameera pointed out. “Especially on anything… fleshy.”
“People don’t like looking at charred corpses.”
“Fine,” I acknowledged. “What about her team? They didn’t say anything about them. I saw lots of other people around when that Doctor Doomsday guy was doing stuff.” Well, I could hardly see some of them, but I was aware they were moving around. Some fast guy, and someone else flying that was clearly not Shooting Star. Plus obviously the size-changing woman.
“They’re not all attractive women with good PR agencies,” Sammera said matter of factly. “And most of those involved were mercs.”
“So?” I asked. “Why don’t they talk about them?”
“Because people want to hear about heroes. Those who selflessly protect the people of New Bay. Not people who do it for money.”
“Heroes get paid though, right? By those ‘sponsors’ and stuff?”
“Absolutely,” Sameera said, “But mercs won’t even be deployed until they can secure a promise of payment.”
“Nobody wants to work for free,” I noted. “How do you become one?”
“A hero?” Sameera asked. “Well, you’ve got the most important part I guess. Powers and stuff. But you’ll never get a job without an agent. And you have to be willing to do crazy stuff sometimes…” she shook her head. “I’d never want to be a hero.”
“Sorry for getting you shot, by the way,” I inclined my head. That was the real reason I was visiting her in her hospital room, and she’d just happened to be watching that news broadcast. “I didn’t want to bring you into danger. I might have overstated my Force Armor spell.”
“Not really,” she said. “It worked better than I expected. And… they were looking for us. We might have been able to hide, but they could have gone after someone else. So I’m not mad. I’m never going to become a superhero though.”
“Why not?” I asked. “You did great. Took out two of them at once.”
“Why not?” she raised an eyebrow. “Because I don’t like getting shot at and ending up in a hospital bed. Even if… I’m not really hurt that bad.”
“But how are you going to get-” I stopped myself. First, most people didn’t need to fight to get levels. And secondly… people here in general didn’t get levels at all. “You don’t want to get stronger?” Fighting would still teach people things.
“Not really. I might have a power, but it’s not good enough to make it as a super. I’d rather just live my life, you know?”
I didn’t know, but I nodded anyway. My life had mostly centered around Master Uvithar’s good will instead of whatever I managed on my own merits. Sure, I did all of the duties required of me but he could have easily gotten someone more… capable. “How hard its it for people to become mercenaries?” I asked.
Sameera shrugged, “It’s pretty easy to join them as long as you don’t have a criminal record… or much of one. But they get all the worst jobs. A lot of fighting and danger.”
That sounded perfect.
I was out of the hospital within a couple of days. Apparently the bullet hadn’t hit anything important in my leg, though I still couldn’t walk that great. I had a crutch to help me walk around. It seemed that New Bay had some sort of thing called ‘healthcare’ that covered the costs of my stay. I didn’t have that much money to begin with, so that was good.
I wanted to go back to work, but in addition to still being injured- which would stop me from carrying anything that didn’t fit in Storage- the warehouse was closed. Florina was in a much worse state than either Sameera and I were, and the incident at the warehouse was still being investigated. Nobody seemed to know what they had been looking for, at least not any of those who had been left behind. The leader was gone.
Basant remained extremely helpful, offering to help me get other work related to Extra, but I had other plans. They had been very helpful so far, but I wouldn’t really go anywhere just relying on them.
I found my way to a PC cafe. I wasn’t sure why there was a business designed around selling access to technology and also food and drink that would ruin technology if it got into it, but they had to know what they were doing. Technology was powered by electricity, and I knew water and electricity didn’t mix well. Thus, I wouldn’t be ordering any drinks while there.
I did have to pay for access to the internet, and a computer. I sat down in front of it. Then I leaned back and looked at the people around me. I understood the general idea of a computer, but the two sorts of input devices were still new to me. One had a lot of letters and numbers, with the letters arranged seemingly randomly. Maybe that was how the alphabet went? I hadn’t really studied that.
People seemed to be able to type rather quickly, hitting many keys on the keyboard at once. They also clicked the mouse with great skill. I saw the cursor move around on the screen to exactly where people wanted it.
I hoped nobody was watching me. I doubtless looked like a fumbling novice, unaware of even the most basic functionality of anything. Because I was. But at least I’d read about it. All I had to do was find an internet browser. Death Arena Rematch: Extra Guns probably wasn’t one of those. That would be a game? Maybe the one the person next to me was controlling. That game seemed to have guns in it. Though it seemed quite abstract, since holding a gun would be nothing like using a mouse and keyboard.
The pictures seemed like they might be helpful, but it just seemed to be random shapes or forms related to the name of the thing. Mostly games, probably. That was what was most heavily advertised on the outside of the building. I saw something that looked like it might be an ‘internet browser’ and I clicked on it. Nothing happened. I clicked again, wondering if I had been off target. I actually noticed something this time. It had changed the color of something. I clicked elsewhere, and it did the same. But nothing was doing anything. I clicked things one at a time until I reached the very bottom of the screen.
When my cursor reached the bottom more icons appeared, and when I clicked those something happened. It was strange, because I’d seen those icons before- but it functioned differently. Even so, I saw something happen- and then there was an area that said ‘search’. That was what I wanted.
With some fumbling around I figured out how to make it do things. There needed to be a blinking bar in the right area before I could type letters, which I found one at a time. Then I had to tell it to enter them. That one made sense, but it complained a lot when I told it to enter things before putting anything else.
I searched for ‘mercenaries’ and got… a lot of definitions of mercenaries, and pictures of people with guns. When I clicked on images, it also had pictures of people who looked like superheroes. That was what I wanted. I clicked on a lot of things to try to find something. Ultimately I ended up on news websites. Some of them wanted me to sign up with an electronic mail address, but I didn’t have one of those. Besides, I couldn’t afford to pay to receive a lot of mail. I just wanted information.
Finally, after an hour or two, I figured out that more information was helpful. New Bay mercenaries got me more information, and when I searched for that and “Doctor Doomsday” I found a helpful news article about the events of when I came through the portal. Obviously it didn’t talk about me, but it mentioned the Star Squad and other groups. I even saw a picture of the rock thing, and the woman who threw the car back at it!
Information below told me she was “Great Girl” from the “Power Brigade”. I couldn’t say much for their naming scheme, but they seemed to be a group of mercenaries who actually did stuff. That was what I wanted, and I managed to find their headquarters after only another twenty minutes of searching. Truly, the speed at which information could be accessed was astounding.
The location was quite far, in a different part of New Bay. Even if I could walk at my best speed, it would take me a long time to get there. Fortunately I was aware that people would take people to other places with cars for a payment. Everything worked like that, really.
As I was walking out, I got punched in the face. I looked down at the person who did it.
“Yeahhhh!” A skinny man with glasses yelled excitedly, until he looked up at me. He rubbed the back of his hand. “Uhh… sorry?”
I nodded. “Apology accepted.”
While I could have taken the opportunity to get into a fight, I wasn’t actually a crazy bloodthirsty orc. And after even a halfhearted apology, I had no reason to get into a scrap with a random person who hit me on accident. Even if he hit me pretty hard. I had to refresh my Force Armor, or I was worried it might break. I even got a point of experience for that, though it could have been a very small amount just finally totaling the next point.
I was getting sick of black streets, grey concrete, and glass. From the outside the Power Brigade headquarters seemed like it would be much of the same, but inside it was marble walls, floors, and pillars. Very fancy looking.
Before I could go up to the desks, I had to pass through some sort of checkpoint with guards. “Please take any metallic objects and put them in the bin.” That was said to the people in front of me, so I was quite ready when it came to my turn. People seemed to walk through without issue, and then they just handed the stuff back. It seemed odd.
I didn’t really have anything metallic… except my cell phone. I put it in the bin and walked through the little gate. It had to be some sort of scanning technology. I walked through and it made a beeping noise. Was that good or bad?
“We have another line for powers,” the guard said, pointing.
The guard shrugged. “It’s express. Got an ID?”
I did. With license to use powers and everything! Though it was pretty vague about that. The actual restrictions were outlined in the long list of laws I’d read through. In short, it was a bad idea to use powers for crimes. Not that I intended to.
The guard looked at my ID and waved me through, where I picked up my cell phone. I realized I hadn’t taken my coins out of storage. Maybe they didn’t care about that… or maybe there was a security vulnerability. I decided not to bring it up.
I clicked my way one foot and one crutch at a time towards the desks with people waiting. There were enough people I didn’t have to wait in line, and got to see someone right away. “You have a request?” the man behind the counter asked. “Security, extermination. We do everything.”
“Ooh, extermination sounds good,” I nodded.
“Very well. What do you need us to clear out?”
I thought I would be the one doing that. “Oh. I’m here to join.”
“Is that so?” he looked over me, professionally not commenting on the crutch I was holding myself up with. “You have a power?” I nodded. “I’ll talk to our recruiter and set up an appointment.” Ugh, did that mean I would have to come back later? I hoped my face didn’t show anything, though I’m sure my tusks stood out more with my expression. He was focused on the screen in front of him though. Typing on a keyboard, quite quickly as well. “She’s actually free now, if you’re available.”
“Absolutely,” I said.
“Very well,” the man bowed his head. He typed a few more things. “Come with me.”
He led me to another elevator. I wasn’t surprised, since everything had elevators. However, this particular building had quite a few more basement floors than I thought it would. He swiped a keycard in front of a scanner before pressing ‘B5’. The first thing I saw was something that looked like an archery target, with more of them lined up along the wall to either side.
A woman with medium-tone skin walked towards us. She wasn’t wearing a hero mask, but her clothing was reminiscent of the same. Form fitting, though less colorful than others I had seen. Practical, maybe. “This the one?” she asked.
The receptionist inclined his head. “Yes, Meztli. I haven’t done the paperwork yet since you said you wanted to see him right away.”
She waved her hand. “We can deal with all of that later. Once we know if it’s worth the time.” She looked at me. “So, you got a name?”
“Turlough,” I said, extending my hand for a shake. That almost destabilized me because I forgot I was holding a crutch with that arm, but it worked out.
“Well, I’m Meztli. I know everyone’s all secret about powers and stuff, but if you want to join the Power Brigade you have to show me what you can do. The more you can do, the better pay we can offer. After a background check and all that, of course.”
I didn’t really have a background. “Um… I’m extradimensional. So there’s not much to see.”
“Really?” she shrugged. “Clean record then. Should be easy.” She stood there for a moment. “Well go on then, show me. Unless you’re a speedster with a bum leg?”
“A speedster?” I didn’t wait for an answer and shook my head. “I got it.” The first thing I did was pull a stack of papers out of storage. “Storage,” I commented.
“Interesting. I’m sure we could find something for that. Is that all?”
“Of course not,” I said. I looked over at the target. “Is that flammable?”
She shrugged. “Fire resistant. But if you can set it alight it’s fine.”
I stepped forward. My aim wasn’t so good I could just do this from across the room, and there was a clear barrier they obviously expected people to stand behind. I held out my hand and shot a Firebolt at the target, striking slightly off center. It really didn’t catch on fire, though I scorched some of it. “Want to see more?”
“You have more?” she raised an eyebrow. “I’ll see it all.”