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
Almost Infamous: Unwanted
By Matt Carter
We went to the beach at night because it was comfortable to sleep on, and because if you chose the right stretch at the right time, the police wouldn’t even bother you until morning. When you’re lacking for places to sleep, you could do worse, and god knows all of us had seen enough worse to know what it was like.
We weren’t a family, not really, just a group of fair acquaintances who banded together for protection, sharing what we spent the days begging, borrowing and stealing (with a smile as charming and innocent as mine, I was quite good at the stealing part). There was usually liquor to go around, but I was more than satisfied with just enough food not to go to sleep hungry.
Our numbers fluctuated, from around six at our smallest to fourteen at our largest, people coming and going as they found jobs, a couch to sleep on, or in truly fortunate cases, love. Some of us had been on the streets all our lives, some of us just a matter of months (I was in between, going on a good year). Most of us were young, though some were old. There were men and women, humans and not (including a handful of gene-jobs who were always there, and two Atlanteans at different intervals). Some, like me, had powers, most did not.
If there was one thing we did all have in common, it was that we were unwanted. We’d all been thrown out by family, or society, or our governments in the cases of the Atlanteans. Uruguay was a paradise, and there were programs to help people like us, but we could never truly feel like we belonged. The streets were the only places that wouldn’t reject us, and so long as we played it safe and stuck together, we would survive. It was not an easy life, but like I said, we could do worse.
It was a warm summer night when worse finally found me.
There were twelve of us then. As usual, Jorge was our walking bonfire, using his powers to swirl flames around himself, making for a good show and letting us cook meat when he’d stop moving. I was sitting, tuning my guitar and trying not to notice how cute Jorge was, because I knew he strictly liked girls. Some of the other guys were tossing around a ball and were likely to start a game of rugby soon. While I did not mind them having their fun, I knew they would try to talk me into playing, which I probably would, and then they would try to talk me into using my powers, which I certainly would not.
If that happened, people would get hurt.
I couldn’t let that happen.
A little ball of energy named Jisela sat down next to me, all smiles, and as usual my evening felt a little brighter.
“You got the guitar working yet, Felix?” she asked.
“Patience,” I said. “I could play it now, but you wouldn’t like what it’d do to your ears.”
“I know. I just like it when you play,” she said.
“Because I make money when I play?” I joked, slipping her a bag of hard candies from my guitar case. She had a sweet tooth and always had a way of talking me into getting her some candies with the money I earned playing.
She took the candies gratefully, though she didn’t meet my eyes as she tore into them, “Because it feels like what you’d think a good home feels like when you play.”
I didn’t feel like joking after that. Jisela couldn’t have been more than eleven, and though she never told any of us why she’d run away, the way she reacted whenever anyone mentioned her father, we all had our theories, none of them good.
Him I wouldn’t mind hurting.
It was just a fantasy, but an appealing one. I would never actually go so far as to hunt her father down and use my powers to break him into small pieces, great though the fantasy might be. Mostly because I’m not a very violent person, but partly… partly because it just feels unheroic.
When I was little, before I found my powers and before father found me with my boyfriend and put me onto the street, I idolized the superheroes. I watched their movies, I read their comics. When I was eight, father even flew all of us to Buenos Aires to see El Capitán at a public appearance, and I was lucky enough to get to meet him for a moment, shaking his hand and getting an autographed poster.
It was, and still is, the happiest day of my life, and from that day forward I wanted nothing more than to be a superhero.
That wasn’t going to happen, not anymore. Nobody wanted a homeless hero. They just saw us as-
“Hello, friends!” The voices were harsh, speaking in English with British accents. There were four of them. The capes they wore said they were heroes, or at least wanted us to think they were. They tried to sound pleasant, but their smiles were wolfish. Jorge let the flames die around him, a look of pure fear on his face.
“If you could all gather around for a moment, we’d like to talk to you, ask a few questions!”
Jisela looked up at me, half curious, half frightened, “Who are they?”
“I don’t know. Be ready to run,” I said.
I tried to keep Jisela behind me, but her curiosity got the better of her fear and she kept peeking out as we joined the rest of the group.
One of the capes smiled and said, “I want to apologize for interrupting the wonderful evening you good people are having, so we’ll keep this brief. First, so I’m not crazy, does everyone here speak English?”
“I do, but I am the only one,” I said. It was a lie; close to half the group, including Jisela and two of the three gene-jobs did, but I wasn’t going to reveal them. I kept one hand on Jisela’s shoulder to make sure she would not say anything foolish.
The cape who spoke pinched the skin between his brows, but kept smiling, “Very well. Then will you relay to them the message I’m about to give?”
“Certainly,” I said.
“We’re running a program, right now, seeking potential superheroes from people who’ve had a rough go of things in life. We’re looking for anyone here who’s got superpowers, or been genetically altered, as I can see from the couple-few gene-jobs you’ve got here. If you’d consider joining us for the evening, hearing what we have to say, there’s a warm bed and a hot meal in it for you. If you, however, aren’t super, but know of anyone here who is, well, that offer of a warm bed and hot meal still stands as something of a finder’s fee. Will you translate?” the cape said.
I didn’t need to, but I did for appearances. Even to those of us who didn’t speak English, the capes’ intentions were clear.
No offer like this ever comes without serious strings.
What a time to feel wanted.
Everyone started talking very fast, low, hushed, fearful. Though we kept our words in Spanish (or in a couple cases, Portuguese), I had this sick feeling the capes knew everything we were saying. They spread out slightly, not quite surrounding us, but looking like they meant to.
They know what they’re doing. They know what we are. They won’t take no for an answer.
This I knew for sure. What I didn’t know was what to do about it.
The safest path would be to do exactly what they said. Superheroes would have no problem killing, or worse, anyone who resisted.
And if I did that, half of us would be taken god knows where, and since they were heroes doing what heroes did, they would probably send Jisela home.
The less safe path? It would be suicide, but I was sure it would be enough to give the others a chance to run.
A chance is better than no chance, yes?
Calmly I stepped away from Jisela. I planted my feet firmly on the ground and balled my fists, willing my power to surround me and embrace me with greater strength than it ever had before. The crystals surrounded me, bonding to me, becoming me. Soon I was no longer myself, but a giant beast made of jagged crystal shards, twice the height of the tallest men here and with the strength of hundreds.
The four capes activated their powers, ready for a fight, and in kind I raised my arms and roared, “RUN!!!”
I didn’t know if that command was more to my friends or to the heroes, but before I could figure that out, the fight had already begun.
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).