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, Family Business, Villain Worship, Anger Management, and Flawless Victory.
Almost Infamous: Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been
By Matt Carter
Belfast, Northern Ireland, British Empire
In my short, short life I’ve spent a lot of time in interrogation rooms, enough to tell if the people doing the interrogating knew what they were doing or if they were just rank amateurs looking to rattle my cage.
The people who’d caught me this time belonged to the former category.
The room was a few degrees too hot, enough to cause a slight sweat but not enough to make you notice it terribly unless you were really feeling for it. The walls were featureless save for the door and a mirror that most certainly had a few men in official-looking suits standing on the other side of it, enjoying the sight of a young man sweating (perverts, probably). The lights were bright enough to be an irritation, but not so bright I couldn’t open my eyes, and the missing foot on my chair made it rock slightly. My chair was lower than those of the interrogators who’d be sitting across the table from me any moment now.
I wasn’t handcuffed, which meant they were confident they didn’t need me handcuffed.
All subtle cues, all telling me how much I needed to be on guard around these people.
The door opened. A man and a woman walked in; the woman cold and professional in an immaculate business suit and carrying a briefcase, the man thin and tall with a moustache nearly as skinny as himself and a flesh-colored eyepatch over his right eye.
This is what my eyes could tell me.
When it came to people, though, eyes weren’t all I had. Like I could tell you that she was suffering from indigestion, and he had a strained left knee from what felt like a sports injury. He hadn’t slept very much, and she was on an upper of some sorts. Both of them had superpowers, both of them were completely calm, and both of them had the heartbeats of people who would kill me if they had to and wouldn’t lose much sleep over it.
This I knew because I was a super with an excellent line on how people’s bodies worked and how to make them do what I wanted. This was also likely why I was here.
“Thank you for your patience, Mr. Long. I am Lieutenant Bowman, this is Mr. Hastings, and we’re with the Ministry of Metahuman Concerns. Would you like a drink, perhaps, before we get started? Coffee? Tea? Iced water?” the woman asked as she sat down opposite me. Hastings didn’t leave his place by the door.
The heat of the room made water tempting, but I wouldn’t let them see any weakness, “I would like to speak with an attorney.”
“And if you were under arrest, you would have that option. But this here isn’t an arrest, it’s just an informal inquiry,” Bowman said, her smile pure ice. Hastings didn’t move from his spot by the door.
“Then I’m free to go,” I said, standing and approaching the door. Hastings stood in front of it, his face impassive.
“We didn’t say that. Things work differently in the Ministry, and with your status as a non-registered superhuman, you belong to us until we are satisfied we’re finished with you. Do you understand?” Bowman asked, never leaving her seat.
“Piss off,” I said, raising a hand to Hastings. Something was wrong. He should have had a massive wave of drowsiness and walked out of my way, but he didn’t move. He barely budged. Traces of a smile grew at his lips. There was a feeling in my skull, a twitch, like someone reaching inside, peering around.
“You’ll find Mr. Hastings’ gift is to neutralize the gifts of others, so while you are in this room, you are at our mercy,” she said.
Not bloody likely. You think I don’t know you won’t let me leave this room? Just play their game and find an opening.
I sat back down.
“Much better,” Bowman said, opening her briefcase. She pulled out a laptop, opened it up and started typing.
“Now before we begin, we have a few questions just to confirm some information. Need to make sure we dot all the I’s and cross every T, don’t we?” she asked, smiling.
“Ask away,” I said.
“Your full name?”
“No middle name?”
“Date of birth?”
“I’m twenty-one, if that’s what you’re asking, but I was never given a proper actual birthdate.”
“I see. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were a ward of the state?”
“Until I escaped, yes.”
“At age fifteen?”
“Yes. Is that a crime?”
“Technically speaking, yes, but since that’s not what my department covers, I’ll be more than happy to let you slide on this.”
“Thank you. Now if you don’t mind my asking, if you have all the answers, why do you need me here?” I said.
“We’re getting to that. Now, you are gainfully employed now, are you not?” Bowman asked.
I smiled, “Yes. At St. Martin’s Flowers.”
“Doing what, exactly?”
“Sweeping up. Heavy lifting. Running the register from time to time. I’m not that brilliant at making arrangements, but I can make decent funeral wreaths when I must.”
“Don’t you think that’s odd?” Bowman asked.
“What is?” I asked.
“Well, that with a superpower that grants you complete control over the human body, you just work as a shop boy? You could be a healer. You could be rich. And instead you content yourself to a life of mediocrity. Why is that?” she asked.
A question I’ve known most of my adult life.
“I find happiness in it,” I said.
“Do you find happiness in anything else?” she asked.
“Plenty of things.”
“Football. Girls. A good pint. Nothing out of the ordinary,” I said.
“Really?” she said, tapping a few keys on her keyboard and turning the laptop around. “Not even this?”
There were a few pictures of smoking craters and burned out buildings, pillars of smoke, sad, scared-looking people in crowds. Red-caped superheroes were keeping order and putting out the flames, but the damage had been done. Not enough.
She tapped a button, and a series of circles surrounded a face in each picture. My face.
“You’ve been at an awful lot of IRA attacks, haven’t you, Mr. Long?”
“Me and everyone else in Northern Ireland,” I said.
“But it is an awful coincidence, isn’t it?” she said.
“Seeing as how I am completely innocent, I would say it is indeed awful,” I said. With how emphatically I said that, I nearly believed myself.
“Really, Spasm?” she said. My heart lurched. Someone had talked.
“That is your, what should I call it, terrorist codename? Supervillain name?” she said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, keeping my voice steady, though finding that twitch in my head harder to ignore.
“I’m afraid you do, actually,” Bowman said. “You see, my gift, since I assume you know already that like Hastings, I too am gifted, is to tell when people are lying. And, well, you’re lying pretty fiercely now, aren’t you?”
So it was her prying into my brain. Her wriggling around in there. Her I’d have to make exceptionally pay.
“What do you want?” I asked, all pleasantness gone.
“The usual, if you’d please. Names. Dates. Incriminating information. I’ll even dangle a nice deal in front of you to sweeten things, because I’m not a monster, and I know you’re not either. But before anything else, I’d like to know one simple thing. From all the information we have on you, we know you to be a political and religious moderate with no radical tendencies. Why would you join a terrorist organization?”
Her look was pure smugness. Hastings even let his guard off me for a moment, looking over to Bowman to confirm that she had every reason to be this smug. I knew I had to play this next moment very carefully, and take a lot of chances.
Chances like them being so overconfident in their powers that they didn’t come armed.
“This isn’t a test. More a matter of personal curiosity. Even if you’ve a shit answer, I’ll take it,” she said, leaning forward expectantly.
“I just don’t like seeing bullies step on the little guy,” I said, leaning my rickety chair back, just far enough to take its front two legs off the ground.
The next part I did very quickly.
Feet firmly on the ground, I rocked the chair out from underneath me, swinging it overhand onto Bowman’s head. Her blood splattered across the table, her laptop, even my shirt. Hastings looked at me, afraid, I think, so confident in his power that he didn’t think any action would be needed. He turned partway to the door, scrabbling for the handle and quick escape. I closed the gap between us, wrenching his arm behind his back, dislocating it with a satisfying pop before spinning him around and into the table. His head clanged off the corner satisfyingly, his blood mingling with Bowman’s.
I knew he’d lost consciousness the moment my powers came back. I could feel him, and Bowman, both bleeding, badly hurt. Officers were assembling outside, preparing to storm the room.
I wouldn’t give them that chance.
I approached Bowman. She wept softly, moaning in pain through a mouth of shattered teeth and what I took to be a bit of tongue she’d bitten off on the table.
Kneeling down beside her, I reached my hands to grab her temples and said, “Now if I were as wicked a man as you believe me to be, I’d take this opportunity and my newly rediscovered powers to do something truly unseemly to you, wouldn’t I?”
She howled out, a sound of raw, wet pain from her ruined mouth. Clearly she didn’t think very much of me. If I didn’t figure that already, I’m sure I’d have been offended.
Closing my eyes, I reached into her body and began the healing process. New teeth, new blood, new tongue, all wounds sealed. By the time I opened my eyes, she was as good as new, minus some disheveled hair and blood.
She looked at me, bewildered, “What did you-”
“Sleep,” I said. She complied.
The men outside the door opened it, standing with their automatic weapons trained on me. I waved a hand at them, and as one they all doubled over vomiting violently, letting me pass without any trouble.
I’m not a bad man, but I’m not a good man either. I have no problem admitting this. I don’t know if history will brand me a hero or a villain, a healer or a monster, a freedom fighter or a terrorist, and I don’t much care.
If a fight’s needed, Spasm will be there.
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).