Superheroes have been a part of everyday life for more than a hundred years. They star in movies, grace advertisements, walk the red carpet, and occasionally save a life or two. Empires have risen and fallen because of them, and time after time they have saved Earth from certain annihilation.
And they have become irrelevant.
With supervillains effectively extinct, superheroes have become idle and are in danger of losing their funding and their livelihoods. Fearing this, a team of heroes have come up with a drastic plan: to create a team of supervillains who answer only to them, staging crimes so they will have someone to fight.
These are the stories of the men, women and monsters who take part in this dangerous program.
These are Almost Infamous: Origins.
Previously on Almost Infamous: Origins: Prospects, Unwanted, and Torches and Pitchforks.
By Matt Carter
Johannesburg, South Africa
I see colors there are no names for.
To me night can be brighter than the sunniest days.
To me the past is as bright and clear as the present, the future a bit blurrier, but clearer to me than most.
With this power, I can see the dead, and even communicate with them in a way.
They call what I see auras, and they say I should be grateful for this gift.
Much of the time, I am.
But not always.
Not when they show me the worst of humanity.
Not like tonight.
It’d started a slow night, all told; the redcapes made sure of that. I’d broken up a couple muggings and a carjacking. As always, I enjoyed the excitement of their fear. While I wasn’t the most physically intimidating of foes, my white bodysuit and black hooded cloak I wore did make me look quite the spectre.
The porcelain doll mask that covered my face with my eyes blazing gold behind it certainly did nothing to dissuade this theory.
Most of the time they would run the moment they saw me, some recognizing me, most just thinking I was some redcape they didn’t recognize.
Nobody wanted to fuck with one of her majesty’s superheroes, after all.
For those that chose to stay and fight, I felt grateful for what little of the future I could see.
And the pair of brass knuckles I had in my belt.
They would clumsily attack. The future would help me easily dodge. I would beat them bloody, knock them out. Perhaps the police would find them, or perhaps they would just wake up and stumble home deciding to reconsider their lives after what I’d done to them.
Or they’d lick their wounds and come back the next night to do the same thing again.
The vigilante’s dilemma.
There were better solutions. More permanent solutions. But I could never go that far, not if I didn’t want to find myself more haunted than I already was.
I’d just finished caving in the carjacker’s teeth when I heard the sirens. The car’s spotlight lit me up, and oddly I felt a sense of relief as I ducked into the alley and saw the police pull up. They started talking to the man as he regained consciousness. Through what little remained of his mouth, he protested his innocence, saying that some rogue vigilante had fucked him up. The driver he’d tried to rob had long since sped away, and with no witnesses, it was his word against no one’s. They’d glimpsed me, after all, why wouldn’t they believe him?
I could see the auras of the cops wanting to believe the man, then getting close to doing so. Then they saw his gun. Then the belief transformed to them ordering the man to the ground, and then I was smiling.
From a slow night to a good night. Not bad.
That good night turned bad quickly when I turned around.
Now, I don’t see ghosts, not exactly. Everything you do in life leaves a trace of you behind, a sort of psychic imprint on every object or place you visit. It fades over time, but it never entirely goes away. The more important the event, the stronger an imprint it leaves. Births and deaths leave the strongest marks, though violence isn’t that far behind.
And that was what I saw.
Violence. Bright red strings, pulsing and tying together, creating a man and a woman. The man wanted, the woman didn’t. The violence was savage, her cries unheard, and in the end she was broken and bloody and alone, forcing herself to her feet to try and find her way home before anyone could see her. It was the same story told by any number of alleys in any number of cities, and it didn’t cease to sicken me.
Only one thing marked this one different from most.
The man was super. She wasn’t. She never stood a chance.
I hadn’t yet gotten numb to the righteous fury I felt whenever I saw one of these. Nor the vague sense of nausea that seeing something this horrible always brought about. I always tried to deal with these when I found them, with limited success.
But this one was fresh.
Less than a day.
I could find him. I could show him what it was like to deal with a woman with powers of her own.
And a good pair of brass knuckles.
His trail never found a car, nor did he take to the skies or teleport out. He lived close by.
His route was circuitous, through alleys and down main streets, but ultimately led into a moderately upscale apartment building. Not upscale enough for there to be a security guard, but there were still cameras. Problematic, but not impossible. If the cameras saw me, and if (no, when) what I was about to do made the news, they would just chalk it up to another sighting of their “Ghost Girl of Jo’burg” and leave it be.
It was a terrible name the media grafted to me, but it had its mystery that kept what I had to do separate from me, which I did not mind.
I infiltrated the apartment building without trouble, following the strings of his aura up to one of the top floors. I’d seen strings like his before, strong, vibrant. Super, naturally, but something more. Something…
Something I would have to confirm in the actual apartment.
I reached the door. Looked through the door. He was asleep.
The tools from my belt made short work of his door lock, and I snuck inside. Quietly, I crept to the man’s bedroom. He slept peacefully, not that you could tell for the aura strings floating above him. They writhed about savagely, bright red and orange mostly, showing a life of violence and anger. I manipulated some of them to get a better look and only got more confirmations of this.
No black strings, at least.
Something behind me, calling to me. Aura strings reaching from the closet like whisps. Fingers that would grab me by the wrist and slowly pull me to them if they could. I followed them, opening the door as quietly as I could.
When I saw what was inside his closet, I swore.
A red cape.
He was a bloody superhero!
I kept looking, kept hoping that I’d find something to confirm that he was just some fan of hero costumes, but none of it was forthcoming. The suit hanging next to his closet was clearly professionally made out of materials only available to heroes. The aura strings I could read off of the costume confirmed his career, giving me insight into his (admittedly mediocre) costumed adventures. Lastly I looked at him, and though I knew what I was going to see, I looked anyway.
Nearly every one of his most violent strings came from years of heroing in service of her majesty. He was a redcape, a keeper of peace. Untouchable.
I looked at him, sleeping peacefully. Then I really looked at him. I could see what he did to that poor girl in that alley, could hear her cries of pain, her pleas for mercy that would not come because her attacker was one of the good guys.
I knew that leaving would be the smart move. The redcapes had so far ignored my vigilantism, probably because I was helping out and not making them look too bad, but if I were to do something here, now, to him, they would come down on me with the force of a pantheon’s worth of gods. They would kill me, or worse. If I left, I would live to fight crime for another day.
And then it would happen again.
There would be more girls. In time his violence would escalate. Then the red strings would be black, and the girls’ lives that he would take would be on me as well as him.
You know what you have to do. Remember Justin.
I could never forget.
This would destroy my life, but something good would come of it at least.
That was a sacrifice I didn’t mind.
Slipping my brass knuckles back on, I walked up to the sleeping man. He was smiling, having a very pleasant dream if the strings dancing above his head were any indication.
I would fix that.
“Hey. Redcape,” I said.
The man stirred, almost. I took him by the shoulder and shook him.
“Hey!” I exclaimed.
His eyes opened, blinking heavily, confused.
“Monica?” he said.
No idea who Monica was, but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to make sure he was awake for this.
Especially when his nose shattered against my fist.
Blood spraying, he howled, trying to clamber out of bed as I jumped onto it, then on him. Kicking, punching, breaking skin and bones with each hit and feeling really good about myself. I tried to enjoy it, tried to remember it, because I knew that these were likely to be some of my last happy memories.
He tried to punch me back, but I could see it more than two seconds in advance and dodge it easily, punching him under the armpit, feeling something else break. He was trained, quite well I must say, and was able to dodge better once he (in all his near-naked, middle of the night glory) got to his feet.
When I made to deliver a devastating blow to his sternum, his fists lit up with blinding light. Now with hands surrounded by energy, he grabbed me by the wrist.
“Who, the fuck, are you?” he snarled.
“I’m Ghost Girl,” I said, swinging my other hand to clock him in the wrists.
Before I could, I was off my feet, flung through the air and into a wall. I could hear, more than I could feel, the mirror shattering against my back, but the shards that cut into my flesh as I hit the floor bit sharply into me enough to make me not miss that lack of initial feeling.
I knew as soon as he took my feet from me that this fight was over. Not that I wasn’t going to give him hell, because I did, but his training and energy fists more than made up for my element of surprise and cheap pair of brass knuckles. For every good hit I got, he landed three more, flinging me into, then through walls and pieces of furniture. Every string of my aura looked like it was trying to leap from my body, probably due to the utter agony that I was in.
I rolled enough and dodged enough to keep him from shattering my mask, at least.
Wouldn’t want him to fuck up my face any more than it already was, would I?
A blow to the side of my head blacked me out not terribly long, but when I came to, I was on my back, looking up at him, smiling. He pressed a foot against my aching ribs, causing me to nearly black out again.
“I know who you are now. Ghost Girl. Heard about you. You do know vigilantism’s illegal, don’t you?” the redcape mocked.
“So’s raping girls in back alleys,” I said.
“No doubt. And for knowing that, I oughta kill you. Could do it pretty easy too. Just call up some of my friends and just make you disappear,” he said.
“Then why haven’t you?” I asked.
“Because you’ve got a body on you. A fucked face, to be sure, but a body that might make you marketable in some circles. And get me a handsome finders fee,” he said, dialing a number into his cell phone before putting it to his ear.
“Fifty-Fifty? Yeah, it’s Blast-Fist. The superhero? From South Africa? I came to your sister’s wedding? Yeah, look, I heard what you’ve been doing. You still offering finder’s fees for potential supervillains?”
Eighteen-year-old Aidan Salt isn’t a superhero. With his powerful (and unpredictable) telekinetic abilities he could be one if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. He’s unambitious, selfish, and cowardly, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with all the paperwork required to become a professional superhero. But since the money, fame, and women that come with wearing the cape are appealing, he decides to become the first supervillain the world has seen in more than twenty years: Apex Strike.
However, he soon finds villainy in a world where the heroes have long since defeated all the supervillains. While half the world’s heroes seem to want him dead, the other half want to hire him as their own personal villain to keep them relevant. Choosing the latter course, Aidan enters a world of fame, fortune, and staged superhero fights that is seemingly everything he ever dreamed of . . . at least until he sees what truly hides behind the cape-and-mask lifestyle.
Almost Infamous will be released on April 19th, 2016, from Talos Press. Find it wherever books are sold (including the Amazon link so helpfully included here and in the cover above).