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, Torches and Pitchforks, and The Redcape.
Almost Infamous: Family Business
By Matt Carter
Field of Torment # 4673A (a.k.a. “Flab City”), Third Circle, Hell
I never had reason to dream until the Third Circle was chosen as the host circle of the exchange lottery. When my name was chosen as one of the 666 to be drawn in that lottery, I let myself dream even more. This would be my shot, I knew it.
Though the other 665 probably thought the same, didn’t they?
There were people from all around the circle. Greater demons and lesser demons and imps like me, and everything in between. Torturers and overseers and administrative assistants and even a guy who delivered bagels to the circle’s headquarters. I spent a long time talking to a drainage specialist, this giant demon easily eight times taller than me with great wings and a barbed tail, about what it was like to keeping up the fluid regulation to better punish the gluttonous damned. Then he showed me pictures of his children, most of whom had left the larval stage (though one was still molting).
Everyone had stories of their own, and every one of us would have done anything for this opportunity.
The chance to go topside!
The chance to be a supervillain!
Oh, it was such a beautiful thing. I only hoped it would be me.
Opportunities like this, well, they never came along. To keep the balance between the topside and the circles, people can only leave home for topside if someone from up top comes down here (usually for vacation, or for hiding if they’re a supervillain). And, what do you know, there was some hero who’d done something bad and needed a place to lay low for a while, freeing up a position to go up top and be a part of a supervillain team the heroes needed.
There were supervillain fans here, so many, but I doubted any were as big as me.
Even though I was a lot smaller than most of them.
A greater demon walked up to the podium at the head of the crowd carrying a large glass bowl with writhing, glowing centipedes in it; this I could see from climbing up on my drainage specialist friend’s shoulders. The greater demon tapped each of the three long horns on its head with a finger before speaking to us, its voice now amplified by the horns.
“Congratulations, one and all, for making it this far in the selection process. I know you all had to take many classes, cash in a lot of favors, and write many essays to get here, but today’s the day. One of the minions of hell I see before me will win a trip topside, and a chance at being a supervillain. Isn’t that wonderful?” he announced proudly, quickly drowned out by all of our cheers.
He continued, “Now, while you’re all winners in my book, there can only be one winner today. And their name is…”
He reached into the bowl, dug around, pulled out a long, mint-green centipede and crammed it in his mouth. My hearts beat rapidly and I wrung my hands in anticipation. Every flex of his jaw, every bulge of his eyes, every swelling in his near-transparent cheeks gave us hope. Whose name would come from his centipede goo?
Finally, he turned to the brick wall behind him and spat. Glowing, mint green centipede goo trickled down the wall and formed letters. Letters to a familiar name.
“And the winner is… ODIGJOD!”
I cheered, too loudly. There was some applause, mostly polite, some grumbling. Everyone here wanted the spot.
But they couldn’t kill me to win it. The contest rules said so.
So I ran to the front of the crowd and retrieved my orientation packet and my ticket for topside, which was great.
But my hearts didn’t stop hammering, oh no, they wouldn’t do that.
Not when I still had to tell mom and dad.
I took the short way home, across instead of around the fields of torment. Doing this you always run a risk of falling into the slurry, but considering the gluttonous damned, face down in said slurry, are usually quite wide, jumping from island to island on them is easy enough. Truth be told, that’s how most smart people down here commute.
As I got closer to home, I passed Nitrinplsac, an imp even smaller, but older, than I. He was using one of the damned as a boat, pushing it along with a paddle, pulling interesting looking morsels from the slurry while occasionally smacking other damned with his paddle (as per his job description).
“Well ain’t you as cheerful as a topsider?” he croaked.
“I got it!” I could barely hold back.
“It?” he asked, cocking his eyes in opposite directions before it dawned on him, “Oh. OH! IT! Congratulations!”
He saw the look on my face, then added, “This is a good thing, right?”
“We’ll find out,” I said, finally hopping onto the tiny island that held my family’s shack.
It was as dank and homey as ever. Going by the screams coming out of the oven, mom had already started cooking dinner. She hummed as she mixed something in a bowl, sweeping her tentacles across the floor to clean it and add a fresh layer of mucous. Dad sat at the table, a pipe in his mouth and newspaper in hand.
“Celebrities topside, popularizing eating disorders. It’s a disgrace. Disrespectful to us working class. Don’t they know people down here rely on gluttony?” he grumbled.
“Well we can thank our lucky stars they put corn syrup in everything. Evens things out a bit,” mom said.
“Hello, mom, dad,” I said in the doorway.
They barely looked up from their tasks at me.
“Howdy, son,” dad said, his eyes still on the paper. “They finally choose that damnfool to go topside?”
I gulped. It was now or never.
“Yes, dad. They picked me,” I said.
They both stopped what they were doing, looking at me with almost all their eyes (no matter what happened in life, mom always made sure to keep one on the oven should there be anything inside).
“You’re serious?” dad said.
“Yes,” I replied.
“But you said no, didn’t you?” mom said.
“No, I didn’t,” I said. This was the hard part. This was where I had to be strong, which was always difficult with them. “I am going to do this.”
“But didn’t you think about us? Didn’t you think about how much we’ll miss you? How much we’ll need you, son?” dad pleaded.
“You know Christmas is in just over half a year. Business for us always picks up then. We’ll need you,” mom said.
This was how it always went. Every time I considered change, every time I considered doing something that wasn’t how things had always gone. Like that vacation to the core, or that time I wanted to try out for that internship, get that chance to work for the big guy downstairs. I knew they meant well, but I also knew that they just wanted to keep their son close.
“This is my chance… my chance to really make something more of myself,” I said.
“Oh, so you’re ashamed of us?” dad said.
“You know you have a lot to be proud of here. They don’t trust imps like us with a farm like we have, but for thousands of years our family has proven them wrong,” mom said.
I was glad she left me that opening, because it meant I could use their logic against them.
“And that’s what I want to do, but not here. Here I’ll be just another imp, but if I go topside, I’ll be something else. I’ll have all the chaos powers our kind has topside, powers beyond topsiders’ dreams. I’ll have a chance to be a supervillain, a chance to do some real evil. The kind of evil that would make anyone down here proud. The kind of evil that might get me promoted to a demon. The kind of evil that might let me meet the big guy downstairs! Wouldn’t that make you proud? Wouldn’t that make the neighbors jealous?”
They always hated our neighbors, so I knew that would be a good nail in the coffin of the argument.
Dad sighed, but got up from the table and approached me as mom had, “When do you have to leave?”
“A week’s time,” I said.
“Have you learned any of their languages?” dad asked.
“Some,” I said, proudly clearing my throat and using my best topside English. “Odigjod says hello. Odigjod is a imp from third circle of hell. I like how you smell!”
I knew I had much to learn, but since they didn’t speak a word of it (the topsiders we get down here are more the screaming and wailing types than conversationalists), they clapped cheerfully and brought me into a group hug.
“Just don’t mess up,” dad said.
“But know if you do, there’ll always be work for you to do here,” mom said.
“Thanks,” I said, though I knew I wouldn’t need it. I would do great topside. I would earn my spot on the supervillain team, and I would be one of the greatest villains their world had ever seen.
“Make us proud, son,” dad said.
“Never forget who you are,” mom said.
“I will, and I won’t,” I said.
Now I just had to make good on that.
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).