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, The Redcape, and Family Business.
Almost Infamous: Villain Worship
By Matt Carter
Kryziu Kalnas, Lithuania, USSR
If life were better, I liked to think I would have been a teacher. I always believed there was a certain nobility in molding the minds of the future so they wouldn’t make the mistakes of the present.
But life wasn’t better, and the only future I could determine was mine and my family’s (which at the moment was just my little sister), and that of anyone foolish enough to get in my way.
That was why I liked to set the terms for all business deals whenever possible. My rank within our organization was pitiful, at best, but knowing my reputation and what I was capable of, my bosses gave me a lot of leeway in setting terms so I could be of most advantage.
That is why I liked to choose the Hill of Crosses.
Some called it a place of pilgrimage, but many others considered it a place of fear. I cannot blame either side. A hill covered in hundreds of thousands of crosses of all ages, shapes and sizes, packed tightly like insects feeding on a carcass, it can be as intimidating as it is awe-inspiring. Every so often our benevolent Soviet authorities liked to make a show of force, try to clean the crosses up, the most recent time I remember being in 2008, but just as quickly as crosses were taken down, people would put them up again.
It was a strange game for a strange place, but one I liked to encourage. Especially since it helped justify my fee.
Marius and I stood at the base of the hill. It was dark, and cold, as almost every deal was. He bobbed back and forth on his feet, nervous, puffing out almost as much steam as he was smoke. There were headlights in the distance, turning our way.
“Stop dancing,” I said.
“I’m not dancing,” he said.
“Then stop being nervous. This is your job. Relax. Be strong. Show no fear. And know that I have your back,” I said.
“I know all this. I do,” he said, though that didn’t stop his bobbing. This was his first business deal. His uncle (and my boss), Yuri, had gotten him the job. I had more experience, and I should have been running this deal, but I was just muscle. Marius was supposed to learn how the operation worked, and I was supposed to show him, so I would.
“Do well, and you’ll earn a real cool supervillain name, like me,” I added.
“I don’t want a fucking supervillain name, Iron Bear,” he said. If he was aiming for a low blow, he missed.
“All right, perhaps we can give you a superhero name instead. I will now call you Butterfly,” I said.
“Don’t call me Butterfly,” he said.
“Why not? You are jittery and flighty, and probably easy to crush. Until you earn a better name, or prove that you can be a proper villain and not some cheap hero, I will call you Butterfly,” I said.
“My uncle will hear about this,” he said.
“Go ahead. I believe he likes me better anyway,” I said. It was a half-truth, because I was sure Yuri did like me better, but he would still punish me if anything happened to Marius because family was family.
Yuri wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted punishing you.
“And what’s so wrong with heroes?” Marius asked, the headlights almost upon us.
It didn’t surprise me that Marius was the kind of kid who likely had superhero posters on his walls. Probably just ones from the motherland too, listening to all the propaganda, ignoring the heroes that the British and even America had to offer. He was young, he didn’t know any better.
I wouldn’t even fault him for sticking up for heroes when we were here on some very illegal business.
“Enough things to warrant a lecture sometime soon over drinks you will buy. But if you want the short version-”
“Please, anything to distract,” he said.
“Very well,” I laughed. “I could go on about how superheroes are a superfluous institution from a time when supervillains walked the Earth, or how they are a tool of imperialist oppressors from capitalists to socialists and everything in between. But what it comes down to in its simplest form is selfishness. They are selfish, and they won’t admit it. They claim that they are here to protect us, and spend most of their time looking flashy, spending money and living the high life of celebrities, using the threat that something terrible might happen to us if we do away with them, and because we are afraid, we do nothing. It is a very selfish form of blackmail, and I cannot approve of it.”
“And that makes villains better?” he asked.
I shrugged, “At least villains are honest about what they are. From your garden variety psychopaths to your freedom fighters who just don’t want to live under the rule of the superheroes and their global empires, I respect villains more. Did that distract you?”
“Some,” Marius said.
“Good, because now we get into character,” I said as the car pulled up in front of us and its four occupants exited.
To his credit, Marius was pretty good at pretending he wasn’t nervous.
“Hello, friends, which one of you is Lars?” Marius said cheerfully.
The hulking Swede with the thick beard from the passenger side of the car spoke up, “I am Lars.”
I should have guessed. He was the smallest of the four. I am still bigger than any of them (and much bigger than Marius), but the guns each of them had under their jackets made them confident. More confident than they should have been, but really, how could they not have been confident when confronted by two kids working the Lithuanian black market?
“Your boss could have chosen a more convenient location. Closer to the coast. I don’t like long drives,” Lars said.
Marius darted his eyes at me, but quickly said, “What can I say, Yuri’s a superstitious man.”
“He’s also a man who can get his hands on merchandise no one else can. Merchandise I’d like to see,” Lars said.
“Certainly, certainly we can arrange that, but first there is the matter of payment…” Marius suggested. Lars grunted, and one of his men from the back of the car pulled out a briefcase. He opened it to reveal stacks of Swedish krona.
“Excellent,” Marius said, turning to the wooden crate behind us. He pulled up the top and revealed its contents to the gathered Swedes.
“Gentlemen, let me present to you the Vendarak Screamer Rifle, 2014 model, fresh from Atlantis. Very illegal, very powerful. Powerful enough underwater to break stone, and on land… well, if you’re looking to have some problems with superheroes, and under no circumstances can I actually encourage you to do that, it should even the odds for you considerably,” Marius said. He lifted one in both hands, staggering only slightly under the weight.
“Would you gentlemen like a demonstration?” he asked.
“That will not be necessary,” Lars said, quickly drawing the pistol from his jacket. His men did the same, though with submachine guns. Marius was afraid.
I was not.
“You’re robbing us?” I laughed.
“With the price Yuri was asking, I’d say you were the ones doing the robbing. We’re just taking what we’re owed,” Lars said.
“That is your option, but it would be a stupid decision to make,” I said.
“Would it?” Lars asked.
“Did Yuri tell you what they call me?” I asked.
“Iron Bear,” he said.
“But did he tell you why?” I asked.
“Because you’re some giant Soviet with more muscles than brains?”
I gave him a chance to back down. I told him that this would be a stupid decision. I really did.
He had to know that what happened next was his fault.
I said, “No. It’s because I can talk to iron. And its friends. And guess what? They’re all my friends too.”
A twitch of my wrist ripped their guns from their hands and held them hovering between us. Then I took them to pieces without touching them. Making a fist with my hand crumpled their car into a small ball.
Then came the fun part.
They’d started running, calling me “super filth” and various other not so nice names. I raised both hands, and dozens, hundreds of metal crosses from the hill rose from the ground, swirling around me like a storm. I wrapped dozens around my body as a suit of armor, covering my face in a bear-shaped helm. The rest I kept floating around me, weapons to use at my discretion.
“Not bad,” Marius said, lighting another cigarette, trying to sound unimpressed.
“I’m better than that, and you know it, Butterfly,” I said.
“Yes, you are. I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be,” I said, widening the whirlwind of crosses to take down one of Lars’ thugs. “But what do you say to grabbing one of those screamer rifles, helping me take down the rest of these Swedes and their money and earning yourself a real supervillain name?”
Smiling, he picked up the screamer rifle he’d dropped, “I say, let’s be supervillains!”
I smiled back, “Life’s good, isn’t it?”
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).